Thursday, April 18, 2013

A New Cabin in the Fir-Woods, a Little Mole, the Roses of April

I spent the end of March in the high desert—sweet juniper scrub land of pinyon, black bear, kangaroo rat and doe, marveling at the strong magic of plants. I've always been an "animal" person; my way into  the wild and my own self seems to be through the magic of animals. Since I was a girl I've been drawn to the shapeshifting powers (in tales) of women who speak to wolves, who turn into glossy brown chipmunks or robins or ravens.

 I also read many books about herbalist-witches, midwives of the medieval variety, who knew all the old arcane knowledge of plants, and I wanted to be like them too— like the Scottish witch-woman in the book Wise Child (a beauty of a novel, for all ages) who grew a tangled garden of herbs, who knew all the places in the woods and fields where the wild weeds grew, who knew how to sing out their medicine and honor them properly. But it has been a bit slower for me, in my life, to really get into the knowing of plants, the reverence, in the same way that I have been able to make the magic of animals, the language of their tracks, into a sort of spiritual questing, a deep salve, and also a very real and specific practice, full of research and sketching and exact measurements of metacarpal pads, claws, strides, scrapes. Full of the honoring of the animals on this land, in their own lives, not only for my sake but for theirs.

But my days in the desert of the Cuyama Valley shifted this. Something about the desert plants—juniper, sagebrush, pinyon, madrone, yerba santa—and their hardy quest for water just overwhelmed me. They were each like a flame growing out of the ground. I was so distracted, in the best of ways, by them that it became a sort of plant-tracking trip as much as an animal tracking one. 

I brought home with me the dry resin strength of juniper (what miraculous dusty blue berries, larder of so many wild ones out there in those washes), the memory of candlestick yucca glowing in the late afternoon sun, the bright green of scrubby oak mistletoe.

Home, in a new cabin in the fir forest, I have been completely overwhelmed by the green, the abundance of water, the thick tangles of plants every where I turn. The Douglas firs that flank our little home are just staggering to gaze upon, when you really slow, and crane upward, and imagine what it is to be that thick-barked body, first to touch the sun each morning.

I've been gathering yerba buena up the shady hillside, and the new fir tips, for tea. It seems a good way to start a relationship with a new place, and to open into the wonder of the plant world: bring them, literally, into your center.

Fires in the woodstove have been abundant. When your heat must be created nightly by the sorcery, the alchemy, of fire, it becomes warmth much more precious. I've always loved building fires, tending them, poking at the orange embers; it is a belly of magic right in the center of the home.

My runs to the post office this month for the April Gray Fox Epistle (a re-telling of Tsarevna Frog) were much more relaxed than previously. No  lines, and a brief walk up and down this hill. Delightful! Mugwort and lemon balm danced up their thick green leaves in the roadside ditches.

It is hard for me to describe what a joy it is to be tucked into these green woods. To throw open the windows and doors and have the shadows of bigleaf maples and bays fall in the openings, along with the calls of robins, the drums of woodpeckers. I feel much more peaceful than I have in quite a while. It makes me believe, more than ever, that our psyches are tied in with the psyche of the land; that time just watching the sun on trees, the juncos feeding, is literally medicine for the mind.

Here is the beloved mail-grocery-wood-whatever basket, full of April's Epistles, looking out into the greenery of our "yard," which is really the forest, and not ours at all. On that subject, it's time to sign up for May's Gray Fox Epistle! Gosh, the days fly. I've been working on a re-telling of the old British  tale, Tamlin, set right here in these woods, written entirely outside. It is a sort of love song to this place, a delight to write. So, do sign up (Paypal links in the left column right below the Indigo Vat banner) if you are so inclined!

The cabin is quite teeny, so I've been improvising new "office" space, the latest this patch of steep meadow, drenched in sun, just around the corner and up a fire road. The fir trees sway gently around the edges, and poppies and cream-cups are blooming, and I have come to recognize at least one resident raven by the missing feather in his right wing.

Right as we were heading to our loaded up car to leave Mill Valley and move here three weeks ago, we came across a just-dead mole in the path, perfect, velvet, being harassed by crows. I never do this sort of thing, being rather sensitive and tender of heart (and mildly squeamish, I'll just admit it), but I got out a plastic bag and scooped him in. He seemed to want to come along. I can't quite say why, but I just didn't want to leave him there to be pecked to pieces by crows, as much as they too deserve their lunch. The beauty of his little self overwhelmed me.

We brought him here, gorgeous sweet being, fur so soft and velvety my fingertips were too rough to even feel it, power of the fecund underground, and buried him in the new front garden, back in the deep tunnels from whence he came (and where, I have discovered, there is another mole, a live one, happily digging away but somehow (bless her) thus far avoiding the lettuces). A visiting friend, over a cup of tea, said that perhaps we should name the cabin Mole Hollow— because it is a snug, shady little den of a home— and perhaps we will! I feel blessed to have been able to come so near the perfect form of a mole, sacred tunneler, aerator and keeper of the magic of the underground (a place, in the mind and heart, quite important to the artist in all of us!)

And meanwhile, all around, the flowers are as rich in their opening as the green grasses and new leaves. In my mother's garden over the mountain, the poppies are just ridiculously lovely, and the roses are explosions of thorn and white.

Growing up, there were always dense, wild rose bushes in the garden. They were my favorite place to play, in their thorny caverns, making up worlds. To me, they still hold all that wonder of childhood, all the afternoons imagining speaking animals and fay folk in the brambles. And they do, of course, figure in quite centrally to the fairytale Tamlin, which you shall discover in this month's Epistle (or any version of it you happen to read), as they do to so many tales.

This morning, out on the back steps as a woodpecker explored a nearby stump, I came across Rumi's poem, Roses Underfoot. He writes:

"Going in search of the heart, I found
a huge rose, and roses under all our feet!

How to say this to someone who denies it?
The robe we wear is the sky's cloth.

Everything is soul and flowering."

Indeed, it does feel that way in the sun-bloom of April here nestled in the foothills of the Coast Range, a couple hour raven's flight from the ocean. May we all find the roses beneath our feet, and share them, petal by fragrant petal, share them with all the love we can muster for each other and this land, because what else are we here for?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Seed Market

A few days ago I sowed handfuls of wildflower seeds in our new front garden. Midway through, hunched over the dark dirt, I stopped to look at the seeds themselves, and was just overwhelmed. What perfect planets of creation, each a different color, form, all holding the birth of a flower that is just itself: foxglove, forget me not, columbine, poppy.

The next day, I read Rumi's "The Seed Market" as my morning poem, out on the back steps watching the light come through the Douglas fir trunks, the bigleaf maple leaves, so sweet and green. Every one of them started as a seed. How can this be, this miracle of the seed? What wonders there are in the world.

The Seed Market

Can you find another market like this?

with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?

for one seed
you get a whole wilderness?

For one weak breath,
the divine wind?

You've been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.

Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.

It no longer has the form it had,
but it's still water.
The essence is the same.

This giving up is not a repenting.
It's a deep honoring of yourself.

When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God's sake!

Don't postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.

No amount of searching
will find this.

A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.

-Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

The little seed of the self, all thistle-spiked or smooth and glossy, maybe soft as a fruit, maybe hard like an almond shell—it is good to let it release into the surrounding trees now and then, become the calls of raptors overhead, the red breasts of robins, the little candle-flame flickering in my lap as I read into the morning and remember that when I breathe in, I breathe in the exhalations of all these seeded trees and plants, and when I breathe out, I give them a bit of carbon dioxide to absorb. And of course I share air too with the juncos, the towhees, the raccoons, the does.

American kestrel, photo from Wikipedia
Whenever I read Rumi I feel full of gold honeyed light, and also wonder, and generally some confusion, a delightful sort of confusion. I'm not sure what precisely he means about the falcon landing on your shoulder, what this means in the great metaphysical scheme of his lyrical world, but to me, I see a little kestrel, perfect and small, the sort you see perched like some divine goddess on telephone wires, watching meadows, kohl-eyed, quick, with wings that look almost blue against the cream of their chests. The idea of such a being landing on my shoulder, and staying there, keeping me company-- well, this makes whole fields of wildflower seeds germinate and bloom in my heart, in my skin. To be so touched by the wild of the world, of one's own soul, kestrel-bright: that is grace, that is holiness.

May we all wander, in our mornings or evenings or whatever small sacred times we set aside for ourselves in our busy lives [which today, for me, involved a mildly hysterical madness of self-employment tax forms, which I've never filled out before and which I must say I was in a bit of denial about ACTUALLY having to do until this morning, when I overturned the house looking for the necessary documents which I of course had put nowhere useful whatsoever-- the trunk of the car, a basket in a box under papers, you get the idea....] through the seed markets of the wild soul. One forget-me-not seed, bristled, in the palm, is the miracle of the whole world, and we all do have a kestrel that will come to our shoulders, if we are ready to call her.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Orange Poppy-Heart of Everyday

Columbine, Marin Headlands
I have been a bit scarce around here these last two weeks, because we have been moving house to a lovely little cabin in the Douglas firs of West Marin, with wild roses all over the hills out back, ferns, hazels and bigleaf maples abounding, and fires in the woodstove every night. Out the windows the world is green.

In the middle of all that I spent a long weekend in the sage scrub pinyon-juniper desert east of Santa Barbara, tracking deer through the thickets and falling in love with the silhouettes of candlestick yuccas high up on the bare orange ridge-tops. I will have photos of all of this soon to share; as soon as I retrieve my camera cord from its hiding place, as we are not totally all the way moved yet, and there are boxes between here and there that still need to be ferried over the roads, down the hill, into this green valley and up into the firs.

Douglas iris, Marin Headlands
Since my birthday a few weeks back, which my love and I celebrated by spending the night and day out in the beautiful coastal scrub and wide valleys of the Marin Headlands, under a tree he has been visiting for a decade, I made a resolution about being present in the wild beauty of the everyday. I know, it is not a very inventive resolution, but perhaps it feels so familiar because it is so very important, and also so very hard.

Here are a few photos from that lovely, peaceful jaunt. Nothing like a night on a bed of soft leaves and a morning waking up to thick fog and hermit thrush song to thrust you fully, beautifully, joyously, into the miraculous present. And, of course, one's mother (and the mothers of one's love and the mother of one's dear old friend, along with a beautiful friend who is not, as of yet, a mother) at the other end of a windswept hike with tea and cake and clotted cream.

Our cosy bed of grass and fallen leaves, safe like two foxes in a den.

The late afternoon view from the "Front Porch."

My beautiful mother in a grassy meadow, bearing tea, lemon-masa rosemary cake, cream, jam.

Steeped in fog and early spring-ish sun, the love of one's loved ones and the fullness of the wild land: a perfect way to start the next journey around our big star.

Lately I have been rising each morning and, before anything else, definitely before touching the white box of my computer, I have been lighting a candle, pulling out a book of poetry, and reading a poem for the morning out on the back steps as the robins sing and the wind moves the leaves.  I have been letting these poems, and that flickering flame, fill me up. Then I go off into the day. It is amazing how this resets your brain, how it provides a lodestone through the hours to touch now and then, and be full again of that wild peace.

So I thought perhaps I could every now and then share my morning poem with you, share a little bit of this journey that we are all on toward rootedness, like the Douglas firs, those noble lords and ladies who now reach their arms above my hearth, my home, who move in all the winds, who hold in their trunks great spires of light.

Mary Oliver

In the afternoon I watched
the she-bear; she was looking
for the secret bin of sweetness—
honey, that the bees store
in the trees' soft caves.
Black block of gloom, she climbed down
tree after tree and shuffled on
through the woods. And then
she found it! The honey-house deep as
heartwood, and dipped into it
among the swarming bees—honey and comb
she lipped and tongued and scooped out
in her black nails until

maybe she grew full, or sleepy, or maybe
a little drunk, and sticky
down the rugs of her arms,
and began to hum and sway.
I saw her let go of the branches,
I saw her lift her honeyed muzzle
into the leaves, and her thick arms,
as though she would fly—
an enormous bee
all sweetness and wings—
down into the meadows, the perfection
of honeysuckle and roses and clover—
to float and sleep in the sheer nets
swaying from flower to flower
day after shining day.

May we all keep in our hearts the beautiful wild orange poppy heart of the everyday miracles: tea at sunrise, robin-song, new flowers, new rains, a chipmunk on the path, dinner and candles and wine with aunts, grandparents, parents, siblings, the kiss of one's love, stories told on long walks, bees, firelight.