Monday, February 23, 2015

Dancing in the Moss-Fetlocked North

This hammered-tin witch on her bicycle with her tender wings, her flaming hair, the little person hitch-hiking the back of her wheels— she is a proper gate keeper for the Honey Grove shed, where she stands guard. She is a proper gate-keeper for Honey Grove itself, for the process of transformation that occurs when you step up the deceptively simple, alder-lined road and into the world Nao and Mark and Gus (faithful hound) have created here, on some six acres in the middle of fir forest on the eastern edge of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

I visited Honey Grove for the first time in October of 2013, where I wrote the Gray Fox Epistle The Honey Mill , inspired by Honey Grove, and met Nao, a beekeeper, dancer, green thumb farm-garden tender, (and an early Gray Fox Epistle subscriber) for the first time. She has since become a very dear, very close friend (a gift from the internet web of connections indeed). This time around, my visit was centered around two of Nao's sacred dance offerings, but above all things it was a slipping out of time, and into slowness. 

(Let me just add here that any of you longing for a quiet and deeply restorative escape, look no further than Nao and Mark's Honey Grove cottage, here)

This is what Honey Grove will do to you. These firs, and cedars, and the bees, and some alchemy between all of this and the man and woman and dog who keep this land, who tend it, and who it tends in turn. The tin-witch should be a sign. You are entering territory Out of Time. You are entering Bee Time, Fir Time, Raspberry Time, Hen Time. Where all things are allowed to proceed at precisely their own internal pace. No faster, no slower either. 

And so, before telling you about dancing up mountain lions; before telling you about fields full of the hands of light, and how the sky is all eagles, I want to show you a small glimpse of the good magic of Honey Grove. 

How the crocuses came up one morning, where they hadn't been before. Gold filagreed. Grails rising from the ground, cupping spring. How this is a thing to bow down before, up north. In some ways the landscape of British Columbia, with its firs and spotted towhees, feels familiar to the California I know. And yet the winters are darker, and colder, and when a crocus comes up you drop what you're doing. At home, the yellow faces of calendula bloom all year. There are lemons on the trees. The bees don't stop flying. This is its own gift, but there is something in the still cold dark, and then that cup of gold, that crocus. 

While meanwhile, the dead raspberry caps hang, holding raindrops, holding ghosts, holding moons. 

In the little alder wood that lines the driveway, there is a quiet bewitchment afoot. I mean it. This mushroom is glowing. 

There are beings at work here that cannot be seen, who ask, who receive--this is the dance Nao and Mark and Gus dance, here. This is what it means, to have the land working you, creating you, as much as you work and create it. (This is what Nao tells me, and what I see when I look and listen and sit, here.) Maybe it's just the mycelium, down there netting trees together like neural synapses, whispering. Just. Mycelium; magic; little folk—they are nearly the same, in my mind. Maybe all the way the same. So many words for the same stories. The sun is a burning star, eating gas. The sun is a god riding a chariot, afire. The sun is in love with the field of grass, and feeds it. The chlorophyll in green blades and leaves photosynthesize sun into sugar. 

So. The mushroom is glowing, and in its glowing it is saying something mysterious and deeply important, something it might take a lifetime to understand.

There are worlds caught in the cobwebs. 

The trees have great feathers of moss at their fetlocks, some old horses from the beginning of time, now slowed down to trees, but always listening, and grazing at sun. 

This is the world of Honey Grove, the space I stepped into for a week which felt like one long breakfast, one long afternoon tea, one long evening by the woodstove, in which my body-time took over my mind-time. And good grief, what a relief that was!

 The first morning, Nao and I sat down with ample cups of tea and discussed that evening's dance class, where I was going to present a little bit about the natural history of the mountain lion before she led us into the kind of sacred embodied dance experience that only Nao can hold space for, in the way that she does. I will get to this in a moment. 

Photo taken in California in spring 2013 in California of what I am almost sure is a mountain lion track, filled here with hazel catkin in honor of her passing through
We talked, Nao and I, about the way of mountain lions--how they are pure meat eaters, their entire being centered around the hunt; how the rest of their days, they spend napping as cats do, in sun patches, in shadows; how when they travel they take the paths of least resistance, moving as water does, gathering and gathering energy until the moment of the hunt, that great focused pounce; how their canine teeth have nerves that run to the very tips, which can feel out the spaces between vertebrae in order to snap the spinal cord fast and merciful; how they cut open their prey with surgical precision, going for the heart, literally; female mountain lions can't synthesize vitamin A, which is vital for their reproductive health—they get it only from the organs of other animals. How the mountain lion is all languor, all energy conservation, until the moment of attack and consumption; how she goes right for the heart, knowing precisely what she is hungry for, and with no remorse. 

Have you ever seen such beauty? I can hardly bear those eyes. Photo credit here. 
And so when we danced, under Nao's guidance, we danced not only our hungers, letting mountain lion lead us there, unashamed to know what we might want in this life, but also the dance of water, which does not try to split a rock in two but rather smoothly flows around it, like the lioness on ridgetops, in dry creekbeds, going the easeful way.  

I learned something very profound (to me) in all of this—how much energy gets shot off like twanging rubberbands from unnecessary fretting and stress; how the mountain lion takes the path of least resistance and naps long in the sun because she knows exactly how much she's going to need for that pounce. How the term "the path of least resistance" itself makes me cringe; and yet to the mountain lion it doesn't mean laziness, or not trying hard enough—it means wise conservation of energy. It means appreciation of energy, of body, of spirit, of when a lot is needed, and when a little, and how both are good. 

We, as humans, as artists, as makers, as dreamers, might have to pounce every day on one thing or another, but how might our paths between each pounce be languid? Why not enjoy that triangle of sun, coming through? This life is short; why is it we are taught to treat the whole thing like a fight or a flight? Why not savor between each act of precision and focus; why not stretch in the sun, and follow the smooth way, like the cougar? Really, why ever not? I have no idea. It seems glaringly obvious that yes if at all possible, we should bathe in sun beams, even if for a minute; and we should close our eyes to the taste of good tea, and to the lives of birds, singing, and all the other small things which can spell languor in our human lives. 

This is what came out of Nao's dance class in the woodfire-warm yurt of a rainy evening in February, as she gently guided each song and we women danced the round floor, finding the old animal wisdom in our bones. In Nao's words, from her website, this class, and the others in its series...

... is dedicated to uncovering our wild intelligence, what British Storyteller Martin Shaw calls the “primordial root relationship between ourselves and the living world.”

Together, we will journey to the place of instinct and wild uncivilized knowing. Each class will be dedicated to exploring the nature of a particular animal through the living ritual of dance.

The invitation is to come into connection with the wisdom of our own animal bodies and then to follow the cellular intelligence there into the landscape of psyche/soul, into the indigenous territory of self.

She writes also --

To dance freely is to begin to release material that cannot be accessed through the vehicle of the intellect. If we let our minds rest for a while and let the wisdom body lead us, something profound can happen. What occurs is a kind of healing that has to do with connecting the heart with the head, and the body with the soul.

Dance is something that human beings have been doing since the beginning of time. Honest expression in the form of dance is deeply rooted in the nature of who we are. Creative movement can be a transformative experience that can lead to upsurges of emotion, and these feelings are doorways to deeper understanding. Our task is to help ourselves and each other to listen and be, without the obstructions of a judging mind and the paralyzing effects of self-consciousness. From here, an awareness opens and the territory of transformation is realized.

Gus the Wise Man hound, who knows all of this inherently and would likely wonder why I am spending so long writing about it, when I should just be savoring the smell of the night and not worrying about precise language....
I see what Nao does as storytelling through the body. It is very old stuff, this. How dance is the body's way of expressing its own mythos, its own understanding of the world. How the mind might learn much from this, and from being quiet. For a long time I had a hangup around the idea of dancing--that it had to be performative, and choreographed, but now I see that dance might be the oldest art of all—the body, reveling in its animal nature; the body, telling stories of what it has seen, and felt. Nao is a very special, very powerful gatekeeper in this regard, letting the strands of inspiration she has gathered from old tales and mystics and poems come down from somewhere through her, into her dancers, and then, I imagine, onward into the great big ground. 

It was an honor and quite a joy to share this round space up north with Nao and her dancing women. My visit also overlapped with a workshop Nao and her friend Jessie Turner, a wonderful jewelry-smith and creative visioner, created together, called Conceiving the Muse. We explored the mother of the muses, Mnemosyne, who embodies what Nao called "Divine Remembrance," that very important act of really assimilating something-- a place, a bird, a conversation--in the remembrance of it, the burying of it in the body and then unearthing it again as some reflection which reminds you that all things are divinely connected, and Zeus, the Sky, the spark, the ignition. We explored how the act of creating is this combination of remembrance and activation, a constant dance—the field, the sun; the field, the sun. 

The field cannot grow without the focused light of the sun. Nor can it grow without the remembrance of all life held in the wet earth. We live, it feels to me, in a world obsessed with activation and ignition. I myself am a bit obsessed with activation and ignition. I'm almost constantly in activation mode, I'll admit it. But when we danced the field and the sun of the poem below (by the Persian mystic-poet-prostitute Rabia) and I was assigned the field—let me tell you, I've known few things as glorious as dancing myself a blade of grass, and then savoring the many hands of the sun. 

This is what the mountain lion does in between the great ignition of her pounce: she savors. 

The Way the Forest Shelters


I know about love the way
the field knows about light
the way the forest shelters

the way an animal's divine raw desire
seeks to unite with whatever
might please its soul--without a
single strange thought of remorse.

There is a peaceful delegation in us 
that lobbies every moment
for contentment.

How will you ever find peace
unless you yield to love

the way the gracious earth does
to our hand's

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Outer Net

Pine tree tops

By Gary Snyder

In the blue night
frost haze, the sky glows
with the moon
pine tree tops
bend snow-blue, fade
into sky, frost, starlight.
The creak of boots.
Rabbit tracks, deer tracks,
what do we know.

A few weeks back, my dear friend Rachel Economy and I taught a workshop called "Re-Belonging: Walking the Wild Land, Writing the Wild Words," in which we twined poetry writing and animal tracking into a day long exploration of inner and outer wilds. Beloved Point Reyes, specifically Abbott's Lagoon, was our teacher and classroom. It was fabulous beyond all of my dreaming. I am a writer by trade, as you all know, and yet teaching the animal tracking portion of the day, while Rachel, a magnificent poet, held the poetry-writing, brought me alive in a new way, in a different way, in a way that teaching writing workshops alone has never quite done for me. This was a new alchemy, made so by Rachel's partnership. Isn't it such a relief, sometimes, to realize we are better together than we are trying to steer every boat all by ourselves?

Here's how we described the workshop:

"We believe that the crafts of poetry, story-making, and wildlife tracking share the same roots. In this workshop, we will re-engage a sense of our “place in space,” as poet Gary Snyder says, weaving animal tracking and poetry-writing practices, prompts and skills together to connect our inner and outer worlds. We see this as a tangible, hands-on way to meet and meld inner and outer landscapes, and to find joyful and visceral ways to open back up to our ecological relationships and ecosystem hearts.

Especially in a time of great upheaval and deep grief in the world, many of us can start to shut down our connection with the natural world and with our inner animal, in an attempt at self preservation. Moving back into relationship with ecology is essential to tending to the world. In order to do this in the face of overwhelming global trauma, we need tools and practices that let us into the joy, play, wonder and deep sense of home that is built into our bodies and relationship to the animals, plants, and land where we walk and dwell, a well as the heart that dwells within us. Writing, tracking, reading the land and our place in it- these are some of the most potent and joyful tools we have found to walk with.

As mythologist, wilderness rites of passage guide and storyteller Martin Shaw writes, the psyche does not dwell within us but rather is the land itself, and we dwell within it. Through poetry writing and animal tracking we will begin (or deepen) our journeys to re-root in the bigger community of the more-than-human world."

Needless to say, for you local readers, we will be offering more workshops in the future! For now, I'd like to give you a few knotted strands from the day.


The sand dunes at Abbott's Lagoon are a great, wind-written doorway into a perceptual relationship with the lives of animals—skunk and river otter, bobcat, heron, coyote, deer mouse and centipede. Perhaps more important than this though, they are a doorway into the heart of curiosity. Questions can take on divine weight, and power, when they are born of what I like to call "ecstatic curiosity." Ecstatic curiosity is what happens when you see a bird for a moment, singing in the brush, a bird whose song you don't recognize, a bird whose name you don't know, and the question—who is that?--burns in you. In the lineage of animal tracking in which I was schooled, questions are teaching tools. I might say to a teacher—what bird was that? And he will most often reply--hm, interesting, what bird was that? What patterns did you notice on its wings? What was the shape of the beak? How would you replicate the song? 


You have to take the question home with you, inside, like a fresh secret, like a seed you can hardly wait to try to germinate. There's nothing like a good question to get you to learn the answer, and never forget it. A varied thrush!--you will realize one day, in a flash of joy, when you see the bird again, and take better note of the markings, and grab your Birds of the West field guide. It was a varied thrush! You will always know a varied thrush, after this, like seeing a friend. 

I like the image of ecstatic curiosity--it makes me think of Sufi mystics, whirling in dervishes through the sand, leaving their own trails, their own spinning signs, of Oneness. Because after all, in my mind, animal tracking is about stepping into the net of Oneness. 

Questions are the first doorway. Then, the sand. 

Tracks are the words, the answers, the poems, written there.

A river otter left beautiful tracks along the very lip of the lagoon, showing how it slid down the sand between two gentle blues. 


Threaded between the river otter tracks was the trail of a bobcat, passing through in her usual (baseline) overstep walk, traveling between the willows on the far side of the lagoon and the trail that leads to the sanddunes and skirts the eastern edge of the lagoon, which we walked in on. There, on that human trail, the brush rabbits are always feeding and dashing about the edges. Earlier that morning, Rachel and I saw bobcat tracks heading the same direction as these along the footpath--her morning hunt? Did she find a rabbit for breakfast, or a songbird?

I say she but I'm not certain that this is a female bobcat; a guess only, based on the relative daintiness of the prints, the modest size of the front metacarpal (heel) pad. Sometimes, guesses are the voice of intuition, of gut feeling, the voice that transcends species, that speaks when you lay a fingertip to the inner landscape of a track and close your eyes, and for a moment the body and life of that individual animal heaves through you, a cord of connection, umbilical, twisted there, between you. Then, after a breath, it's gone.

And then sometimes, guesses are completely and utterly wrong. This is one of the wonderful lessons of animal tracking—your ecstatic curiosity is based not on right answers but on engagement with all of your senses as well as the details of the track and sign before you. Of course, right answers are useful and important at some point, because without them you can't really step into the narrative-net of the land around you, not wholly, not with the kind of rigorous specificity that all dedicated arts, and practices of mindfulness (of which tracking, to me, is both) require.

But as a doorway in, as this day was meant to provide, right answers are not as important as questions, as the act of twisting little cords between your heart and the hearts of the bobcats and herons, dunegrasses, sands and centipedes, around you.

Which brings me to a very simple, but very profound thought that knitted itself together in me as we all wandered the dunes, following the weaving trails of skunks, and discussing the gaits of deer--this is the net of connection we all long for, somewhere far deep down, old as our strange big brains, our quick hands.

As some of you know, I've been thinking a lot about the internet recently, and our relationship to it; I said goodbye to my Facebook for this reason. Well, it occurred to me that part of what we crave when we turn to that invisible digital net is not only connection, but also the stimulation of newness, of new content, fresh shiny photographs of things from a perspective that is new to us. And that this desire in many ways seems to come from the same impulse as the place in us that is suddenly overcome with that "ecstatic curiosity" to understand each thread of connection in the natural world around us. This desire for newness is deeply satisfied by every new track--heron, otter, bobcat---no matter how many times those individual animals may have been observed. Every day the tracks are new, the story is new, the world is new. This is the net of connection we have snipped ourselves out of, that we long to step back into; our animal bodies do, anyway, even if our big brains don't know it. This kind of newness, this kind of stimulation, and attention to little details, and ability to hold them all--this is what our brains were made for, not the constant newsfeed updates. This is the original net.

My dad calls it "the outer net," tongue in cheek. The real net. Which of course includes our relationships with each other too, in real live physical time-- for when woven and knotted properly, we are all part of this one big "family of things," as Mary Oliver says. We are not separate; this myth of separateness is what has poisoned us apart.

  Net became the theme for my most recent Tinderbundle

None of this is to completely disparage the internet; not at all. There is a democratized freedom and wealth of information shared here that is truly miraculous, not to mention the freedom afforded so many artists and makers and thinkers, like myself; I can make a living doing what I love because of this. I have made beautiful connections with other people because of it, and with all of you wonderful readers. For all of this, I am really astoundingly grateful. So please don't misunderstand me. What does disturb me is its addictive quality, the way our attentions, our impulses, are increasingly sucked into this space. I am very aware of this allure as a working writer, when those moments of uncomfortable creative block or boredom or restlessness occur, as they always do, and on the regular—the internet is a very dangerous place for the creative mind during these moments. 

What I am afraid of is hard to articulate better than the wonderful Rima Staines did a year or so ago, in her magnificent essay-post, "The Book of Faces and the Web of the World" :

"I have a theory that using the internet occupies a very particular place in us. I think it takes the place of dreaming. Not night-dreaming, but that very shamanic soul-travelling that we all do to a greater or lesser extent when our mind wanders, when we create art, when we day-dream, imagine, journey in our minds and spirits to elsewhere, elsewhen. Internet-travelling uses the same metaphorical muscle I think, but is utterly hollow in comparison because it is not creative in that same sense. It is not magical. And worst of all it replaces the dreaming."

Yes. This is what I fear. That we are letting the internet replace, instead of supplement. That while we busily share and update and take in more beautiful stimulating tidbits than the human mind can possibly contain in a month, let alone fifteen minutes, we are actually taking more and more steps psychologically and physically away from real, sensuous (as in, of the senses) experiences with each other and the net of the more-than-human world that are, in my opinion, the true joy and purpose of the body and soul in this world.

But enough harping. I think I've made my point, and there are better strings to be played. Namely, the soundless music of a group of eight people sitting in the wind and sun and passing of ravens, writing poems sieved through their senses after a morning touching the cords and knots of the net of animal lives on the land of Abbott's Lagoon.

What beautiful poems emerged, I can hardly tell you! Rachel and I sat awed by the words shared around our circle; how this place and its beings had gotten under their skins, and how they had gotten under its skin too. How it is that poems live everywhere, even hidden in the eyes of skunks...

Valentine for Ernest Mann
By Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the off sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.

And let me know.

To close this netted ramble of words, I will leave you with those of poet and translator Robert Bringhurst (his translations of Haida myths are stunning). He explains that the English word for poetry comes from the Greek verb poiéo, "to do" or "to make." He writes:

"Does that imply that poetry is made by human beings? That it only exists because of us? I think, myself, that making and doing are activities we share with all the other animals and plants and with plenty of other things besides. The wind on the water makes waves, the interaction of the earth and sun and moon makes tides, sun coming and going on the water and the air makes clouds, and clouds make rain, and the rain makes rivers, and the rivers feed the lakes and other rivers and the sea from which the sun keeps making clouds, and there is plenty of poetry in that, whether or not there are any human beings here to say in iambic pentameter or rhyming alexandrines that they see it and approve {...}

When words do what blossoming apple trees do, and what stars do, poetry is what you read or hear {...}

Poetry is what I start to hear when I concede the world's ability to manage and to understand itself. It is the language of the world; something humans overhear if they are willing to pay attention, and something that the world will teach us to speak, if we allow the world to do so." 

-(pages 140 and 145, The Tree of Meaning)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Candelabras of Bishop Pine

There really is something about a brown paper package, tied up with string. Just wrapping up these Tinderbundles in mid-January, with an audiobook crackling away, gave me all the pleasure of receiving such a parcel, crisp and plain, carefully protecting something tender and bright and strange within. 

Making a Tinderbundle is a journey into the threads of the season for me, a different kind of spark kindled—of questioning, and looking. What word (last month's was Wick/Weoce) feels like an old-fashioned candy on my tongue, just right? (I think of the rhubarb candies my wonderful Danish  friend would bring back from Denmark after summer vacations when we were children, red and glossy on the outside, yellow and honeycomb-pocked within.) And more important, what word has a story hitched to it, glinting, that won't leave me alone? How does that word relate to what's blooming and growing on the land right now, that I might use for salves and dye?

I picked the word Wick/Weoce for January's Tinderbundle because this is the time of year that the light returns, the time of year Imbolc, or Candlemas, is celebrated (today!), to note the tipping again toward spring. And I picked it because the bishop pines are growing candles, and the manzanitas the first belled blooms, like tiny lanterns, and because the whales, once hunted near to extinction for their blubber, to be used in oil lamps, are migrating south right now off the coast, from Alaska to Baja, with calves in their bellies waiting to be born. 

In the beginning of January, when I created the Wick Tinderbundles, the Bishop pine trees, gentle conifers that grow only along the coastal edges of California and Baja, were sending up bluish, waxen pollen cones like clustered candles. They smelled of every sweet resin you can fathom. 

Bishop pine trees flourish best when wildfire regenerates their populations once every 50 to 100 years; as I wrote in a recent chapter of Elk Lines:

Fire lives here, in the ground, just the same as earthquakes do, and stone. The forests of bishop pine grow old and weak without a fire to make them new. Their cones are sealed shut with resin, and though a hot day may pop a few of them open, it’s only through wildfire that they may truly be renewed. They burn like torches when the flames reach their tight-closed cones. They blossom, all ember, and shower their seeds down into the charred ash.

 Much of California is fire adapted, even fire reliant. There are whole libraries of seeds in the soil, which will only sprout from the taste of ash, or the extreme heat of wildfire. They've been there since the last conflagration--seeds of rare lupines and manzanitas and rush roses that recolonize burned landscapes. The whole span of a hillside one great wick. 

I gathered a small amount of pollen tapers for a salve. On some of the trunks, tule elk had thrashed their antlers. Resin ribboned through, healing the bark. This, I did not gather; taking resin right off a tree wound is like peeling off a scab before a cut is healed. But wherever drops had crystallized and fallen into the needles, I gathered these. They are like bits of fallen flame, brewed inside a trunk.

The willows and alders were mostly bare of their leaves, the willow branches the color of little flames. All that fresh new growth.

During the last storms, in December, a red alder fell across the trail where I walked, searching for the tinder of this bundle..Alders are one of my favorite trees, partly because their trunks are like the legs of great beasts, with eyes, and because the tule elk love to rub their antlers on them and expose their red flesh, and because nettles grow at their feet, but a lot of this love comes also from their incredible healing properties. 

Alder is one of the first plants that I gathered, tinctured, and used-- and it really, really worked! It healed up (with the help of usnea), an infected blister which was previously bright red and as painful as glass, in a matter of two days; the sort of thing I was considering, with great trepidation (I have been known to panic at the sight of white coats) visiting a doctor for. There's something about having really taken something into your body that forms a level of relationship not easily reached otherwise. To me, sitting and listening with great focus to the subtle net of bird language, to the call of a wrentit, the song of a golden crowned sparrow--this is a "taking into the body" too. All of the senses are doorways into the wise body, not just taste.

Now, when I smell the musk of alders, and lean up against those white trunks, my body remembers that red-barked medicine, and is always amazed. Walking among alders is like walking among friends. And so the sight of a fallen alder is both a magnificent gift-- normally I only gather catkins and cones and twigs to tincture, not wanting to harm the tree by taking bark—and a moment of sorrow.

We sat, my wildcrafting friend and I, and gave our thanks for a while to that beautiful tree. Sang a song, patted her great trunk. It seemed to me as we sat, and listened, that the alder had no sorrow in her falling. That a fallen tree is a whole new life— shelter for new animals, food for bugs, the slow nourishment of bark decomposing into the ground.

I gathered great scales of bark for my dye bath because, despite alder's affinity for water, and for the lymphatic system of the body (waterways!), in old European lore alders also have a reputation for creating the hottest, best fires in which to forge magical swords, (or just heat up a long cold night); they are trees of fire and of water both, great pale candles rising up from the creekbeds, clearing heat from the body, always smoldering red just under that white skin. 

In a great vat in my kitchen I steeped the bark and dyed the many petals of these little crocheted "candle-carpets," as I called them, each a sun-wheel and a square. Their making was a long and careful affair. I think I may have listened to an entire audiobook, with countless cups of tea, as well as numerous garden birdsongs, before all fifty were done!

Every month, the Tinderbundle is just as much a surprise for me as it is for you. What plants call out to be used, what stories coming knocking at the edges of my mind with strange and red-dyed hands. This month, I am following a strange and wild word-- NET. 

I'll leave you with an excerpt from January's tale--of lanterns, of lights, of whales....

<< Old Iris was eating fresh clams from a net on a rock beside her tule hut when she saw a figure out on the marsh. Two dancing blue-flamed lamps were lit, hanging from willow branches, to illuminate her front porch. There appeared to be a mist rolling in behind the figure, though it was coming from a most unusual direction—east. It always came from the ocean to the west. Her eyes were not as sharp as they had once been—hence her love of lanterns—but her other senses were keen. She heard the ghosts of whales and seals before she could make out the phantom gauze of their forms. A high and lonesome melody that rattled the stars above and below the marsh, in the hot muck of the fault zone. She could hear them rattling, like great bells. 

She stood abruptly. Clam shells clattered and then fell from her muddy apron. She took one step, then two, on her broad heron feet, in the way of the hunt, one foot paused long above the mud before silently entering it again. The air carried the smell of boy, and city, and tweed. She wrinkled her nose, then smiled a small smile. At last, a visitor. At last, the blue marshlights had caught someone’s eye, or soul. The world seemed to have become full of skeptics. She had resigned herself to it; almost. Superstition buried in science. But here was one. She could see his heart now, through the dark. The color of will-o’-the-wisps. The color of fallen stars. She could see that he did not know it, how hot it glowed, how bright. 

“Hello?” the boy called, seeing her form now by the light of those fish oil lamps. The humpback whales dove and danced in the air, very high up, having caught sight of the ocean beyond the Inverness Ridge. The elephant seals circled and barked terrible grinding barks of pleasure at the smell of fish oil burning in Old Iris’ lamp. A gray whale with the ghost of a baby in her belly sang a single long note at the sight of the whale roads far out over the ocean, where her family had once travelled. 
“Young man,” Old Iris called back in her rough and croaking voice. It was just like the rough calls of herons. “You are trailing the ghosts of whales. You are tangled in the ghosts of seals. Are you a braggart or a rogue, following my blue lights to find your own fortune? Or are you simply lost?” >>