Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Leveret Letters: A New Project!

In honor of the full solstice moon of June, the big silver mistress of tide and tale, I am launching a new branch of the Gray Fox Epistles called The Leveret Letters, for children and adolescents. Similarly, it will arrive monthly, and it will involve myth, magic and deep ecology. However, instead of separate tales, the Leveret Letters will be a series of installments in one larger story, a chronicle of sorts...

This is how the tale goes: two young black-tailed hares, the leverets Myrtle and Mallow, lead a normal country girl named Comfrey and a normal city boy named Tin on adventures through the mole tunnels, the coastal scrubbrush, the fir forests and the seal-filled beaches of the wild world right beside the one we know. It is just off the highway, through the stands of fennel and blackberry. It is just through the salmonberries, where the foxes have made tunnels. It is just there, between the city sidewalk cracks where the dandelions grow, and just here, beyond the pages of our books, in the chittering of the chickadees out the window.

The place where a hare sat, Limantour beach
Loosely based upon the overall tale-arch of the Russian fairytale Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf, the Leveret Letters are monthly installments in the adventures of Comfrey and Tin as they learn to navigate the magic of the wild natural world that always knew their names, and was only waiting for them to begin to speak its language.

Come along, follow the quick-bounding tracks of the twin leverets Myrtle and Mallow as they lead the children from thimbleberry thickets where kindly women give them tea, to Kings demanding the retrieval of magical animals, to an open prairie full of tule elk, whose Queen longs to be re-united with her stolen sister, to an island in the wild Pacific full of nesting murres and seal-people, and the web being made there that must be retrieved before the world is too lost to be rewoven by it.

In the spirit of Redwall, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, the children’s fairytales of George MacDonald, Alice in Wonderland, My Side of the Mountain, and The Chronicles of Narnia, the Leveret Letters are a modern-day epic, told in installments, of adventure, deep wild magic, myth, ecology, and the wisdom of children. These chronicles are very much rooted in the landscape I call home—the watersheds of the Coast Range mountains north of San Francisco and the geologically unique Point Reyes Peninsula, just over the San Andreas Fault. They encourage their readers to locate myth and magic not just in the Old European wilds of so many familiar stories, but in their own backyards and nearby preserves.

Each month’s letter, similar in packaging to the Gray Fox Epistles, is a piece in this chronicle, ranging in length from 10,000 words (the opening Letter) to a general average of about 5,000. Tales will build on each other, but also will stand alone. Any sign-ups after the first month will automatically receive the opening Letter for free, and can fill in with intervening Letters as they see fit. One or two simple line-illustrations will accompany each installment, and a sweet token of wildness, along with a handful of magical worlds to reconnect young readers with the wonders right out their backdoor in a new way, will be folded into each Letter.

All Leveret Letters are written for an audience anywhere from age 7 to age 13, and beyond! Advanced younger readers are certainly welcome—content may be complex and detailed at times, but not inappropriate.

I am passionate about creating inspiring and magical tales for younger readers that reconnect the heart to the wholeness of our place in the natural world. Our young ones need as much steeping in the true magic of the wild, and reconnection to their place in the family of things, as possible.

I am also passionate about creating an experience of tactile excitement and pleasure related to the receiving of a physical parcel in the post. In a world of increasing digital dependence, I believe that children and young adults especially need more “magic” to arrive in their hands not via the computer screen, but via the real, sensory world.

These stories can be taken out in the garden, up a tree, on the rooftop, on the beach, and can be read aloud there, or silently. Of course, bedtime reading with a cup of hot milk and honey is a perfect place too! These Leveret Letters can be berry-smudged, smeared with dirt, and read aloud to nearby trees, rosebushes, cats, honeybees.

So do come along and sign up your children,  your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, young friends, little sisters, little brothers, or yourself, just there, in the right-hand column! The opening installment will arrive around the FULL MOON OF JULY (the 22nd).

And here, to whet your appetites, is an excerpt from the beginning of the very first installment:


When Tin saw an ember-orange glow near the low boughs of a fir tree just down the next hill, he crouched quickly behind a rock covered in green lichen. The hare Mallow, moving his dark-tipped ears, raised his eyes just above the stone, then darted back.

“It’s her, no doubt about it.” His whiskers quivered when he spoke, like he’d caught a little of the bird’s fire there, just from looking at her. “I suppose you must have some wits about you after all, to have got us here,” the leveret continued, then turned to crop at the lichen on the rock. Tin took his words as a compliment and smiled. “Beginner’s luck,” concluded the hare, back still turned.

“No,” said Tin quietly, “it’s the feather. Like it’s gotten into my chest and licks flames at my heart when we get near her.” He pulled the feather from his corduroy coat, already ash-stained and torn at the back from all their crawling through the brush. The feather was the color of the hottest part of a fire, built to perfection, but it was only warm, not burning, in the boy’s hands, and as long as his forearm. Tin stood slowly then, with the feather raised like a candle to cast light, though it was broad day.

“What are you doing?” hissed Mallow. Tin didn’t respond. He walked gingerly, like the ground, a green glow with the new grass coming up after the winter storms, was the skin of a sleeping animal. The red-tailed hawk, fire-bright from the stars her wings had grazed while migrating many centuries before—Firebird, Phoenix, Bird of Light—turned her head slowly to watch the boy. Her tail was long with flames, an even deeper red than the rest of her body. Her eyes, yellow, black-rimmed, were two suns upon him. Tin felt warm. 

“What, are you going to sing her down, some kind of Bird-Whisperer?” hissed Mallow again, loudly, getting angry. “Since when are you a Bird-Whisperer? You’re going to get caught!” 

For a moment all of Tin’s life dissolved in his mind, and he was only that fire-hawk gaze, the line it made between them, umbilical and ember-hot. He felt very peaceful. 

A loud cracking whipped through the fir-forest edge between the Firebird and Tin. The boy jumped, dropped the feather, and the bird lofted to a high branch. She let out a piercing whistle of irritation; she enjoyed adoring gazes, and she had never met, eye to eye, a little boy before. The cracking was followed by the patter and shuffle of feet on duff, little panting breaths, and then a girl burst out of the tree-line into the clearing. A hare-leveret identical to Mallow, only a female and therefore slightly wider of hip and narrower of bone, bounded at the girl’s ankles. The girl yelped when she saw Tin, and he yelped back in surprise. 

Tin had never seen a girl quite like her before—his age, and, as far as he could tell, a normal child, not part-bobcat, part-thimbleberry or part-coyote. She had a backpack too, a red one, and familiar canvas sneakers tied to it. But she was barefoot, wearing an unusual, tattered but sturdy green skirt patched in red, and a normal sort of blue T-shirt. She had a few necklaces— gold chains with shells or rocks with holes through the middle strung onto them. She wore her dark hair in braids that came to a pronounced V at her forehead, a widow’s peak. Her cheeks flushed very pink and her ears stuck out. She was smiling broadly as Tin stared. 

“Myrtle!” cried Mallow from behind the rock, and leapt out, reaching his twin sister in a single bound. They pressed noses, tangled ears, and began to crop at new green together, muttering in low leveret voices.

“Hopeless,” Mallow was saying, and, “you never do know,” from his sister, between bites.

“Who are you? You’ve got her feather!” said Comfrey after a silence. She herself was not used to seeing a boy her age dressed quite so smart—clean-cut, a tucked in checkered shirt, a collared corduroy jacket with two flaps at the back. His hair, she smiled to herself, was sticking out every way, reddish and tousled with restless sleep.

“Well, it’s my mission after all,” said Tin, putting the feather away fast into his coat. 

“Yours? Your what?”

“None of your business.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Myrtle sighed from near their ankles. “Comfrey, this is Martin, Tin for short. Tin, this is Comfrey. Look, you’re meant to be friends. Partners, see?”

“What?” said Comfrey, thinking Tin looked a bit scrawny, and at the moment rather full of himself, to be of much use on any kind of adventure.

“Her?” said Tin, looking at Comfrey’s bare dirty feet, everything about her winded, wayward, and altogether too energetic for him to understand. He’d liked feeling as though he had a task made only for him. He glared.

“And what,” said a voice behind all of them, “exactly do you think you’re doing here, in my Firebird’s Meadow, in my Place, King San Andreas of the Phoenix?”

All four turned, children and leverets. Both hares felt their fur rise, that they hadn’t heard him coming, they who heard All. The man before them leaned on a cane made of mica. It glowed darkly. He hunched over it. His beard was white, long and braided, but his skin was oddly unlined, his eyes very bright, a green-brown like wet stones. The Firebird circled and landed right on his head, like a crown, her feet wrapped gently around the edges of a wooden platform he had balanced there on his skull. Somehow, it didn’t catch fire. She rearranged her wings and sparks flew. The King caught the embers in his bare hands and ate them. His eyes, thought Comfrey, were not unkind, only pained. He wore a clean brown garment resembling the habits of monks.

“We—that is, I—was sent by…” Tin swallowed and trailed off, not sure now if a thief was meant to reveal his provenance, the origins of his orders. “That is to say, your Firebird—”

“Yes, yes, the King of Hawk Hill sent you to steal her. Very transparent, hm.” He cleared his throat. “I could have her cook and eat you right here, you know. Hungry lass.” The King reached up a knotted hand and the Firebird nipped his fingers with affection, then turned her eyes, now wholly hunger, on them, particularly the leverets, who leapt simultaneously into Tin’s and Comfrey’s arms. 

“But of course, a King always has his own requests, hm. His own needs, yes indeed. Bargains, trades.” King San Andreas gestured a hand for them to follow him, and began to make his way, limping, across the meadow, through the fir trees, and toward a tumbledown white house, all stitched together with blackberry vines, that was his Castle.