Thursday, September 19, 2013

Leaping Harvest Moon Leveret Letters

Today the first chapters of the Leveret Letters should be arriving in the post-boxes of little children, middle-school children and adults alike, from my very own village, Forest Knolls, to faraway Australia! Truly, it has been a deep joy to get this project out into the world. It took a tad longer than expected, due to summer vacation and slow sign-ups, and then a bit of a sea-change for me in the story plotting itself. But now Comfrey and Tin are well on their adventurous ways through a folkloric post-collapse Bay Area. I have to give great thanks to the books of Philip Pullman, which I reread this past August, and which re-informed my whole attitude and approach to the Leveret Letters. I hadn't read these books since I was 11, and, oh my, I was even more hooked this time.

Pullman writes with deep intelligence and strange, dark, living magic. He writes in some ways above the heads of his younger readers, but Lyra is the lifeline, the golden thread. As a girl of 11, I felt like Lyra in the world of His Dark Materials. A little overwhelmed, a little bit afraid, wholly and deeply and deliciously enchanted, and cosy too. As a woman in my mid-twenties, I was in deep awe of the whole world Pullman created, a world that holds the adult mind as well as the 10-year old. I threw my back out rather badly at the beginning of August, and these books kept me cheerful and enchanted as I was forced to lay about and try not to groan often at having to be cooped up!

I am by no means comparing the Leveret Letters to His Dark Materials. Oh my, no. Only saying that those books reminded me of the particular kind of magic that took me by the heart as a younger girl. These Leveret Letters are written for that girl, and for my partner Simon when he was a boy, and for my brother when he was a boy, and on, and on.

And I daresay, in the writing, Comfrey and Tin and Mallow and Myrtle quite swept me up in their world! It felt like warming my hands near a good fire, the writing. Or filling my arms with miraculous flowers. 

The adventures of Comfrey and Tin are very much rooted in the fireroads of the mountain I grew up near, the fireroads and oak-madrone-bay laurel ridges so near the great sprawling cities around the Bay, so near the very large state prison, San Quentin, on the left side of this photo, jutting out cream-colored into the bay. A strange place, this whole area, full of many unlikely juxtapositions and tensions and much beauty too.

So imagine the Greentwins rolling along a fireroad very similar to this one here, where my love and I took a birthday stroll a week past, our feet travelling the dusty trails we know so well.

Here is an excerpt from the very beginning of the first Leveret Letters, to whet appetites!


Fir boughs reach out over the cart, its wooden wheels trundling and creaking on the wet dirt road. The mud and the wet air smell damp and sweet. Four female tule elk pull the cart, which is painted green with yellow stencils of weedy plants climbing in spires and vines and spiky leaves all over the sides. There are three glass windows tinted a reddish-rose, a silver chimney-pipe coming out one side and a balcony at the back, painted blue, with a driftwood railing. Most often one or two jackrabbits can be seen sitting on the balcony, grooming their white belly fur and smelling the breezes. Several pots full of herbs, of the weedy variety, are perched on the back balcony—the kinds of plants people in the City pull and poison from all sidewalk cracks and patios. Nettles, dandelions, plantain, chickweed and one blackberry bramble, which grows all over the back wall of the cart, staining it a permanent darkish-purple.

On this particular morning in late December, the morning of the winter solstice, the Greentwins are passing in this strange green caravan along a fireroad on a ridgetop that looks down at a large reservoir. The twins are conjoined at the hand, brother on the left, sister on the right. Just the forearm and hand are shared between them, no other parts of their bodies. It is their charge to track and tend the whole wild Country around the Bay. Some mornings, it is the brother who greets and gathers the yerba santa leaves, the plantain, the chamise, that grow thick beside the roads and trails, while his sister places her palms over the pawprints, scratches, burrows and scats left by animals. Other mornings they swap jobs, one tending to the animal life, the other the plant life.

 In either case, their shared hand is always used to make the Medicines. Dandelion infusion for a bobcat who ate several lizards who themselves had ingested some non-degradable pocket of insecticides. A comfrey poultice for the leg of a white egret who broke the bone while escaping a hungry coyote. Elderberry tinctures for a whole pond of frogs infected with a strange and sudden fever. Bucketloads of kelp for small oak trees struggling to grow again through the cracks of 300-year-old abandoned sidewalks. False Solomon’s seal ointments mixed with the petals of weedy St. John’s Wort flowers for the constricted or sore places in the landscape: paths that people feared to walk alone, places animals still avoided because of the memory of fast cars on the freeways of Before.

To the Wild Folk, the brother and sister in their green caravan are known as the Witchtwin Doctors of the Land. To the people of the Country who live in small hamlets called Camps, which are situated in meadows, clearings, or near marshes and creeks, they are not known as anything more important than a strange pair of Wild Folk, to be left Offerings like the rest. Children who catch sight of them call them the Greentwins, and pass on stories of every last glimpse of that green cart pulled by elk. People in the Camps do not know that the Witchtwin Doctors of the Land are the most important of all Wild Folk, and held apart. In the City, nobody knows about the Wild Folk, let alone the Greentwins. The Greentwins, of course, know more about all the people of City and Country combined than anyone would care to imagine.

Nobody is quite certain how far they range either, only that they seem to keep to the watersheds around the big blue-gray Bay that drains the rivers of the faraway Sierras, and in particular to those regions to the north of the Bay, where the hills and valleys hold the most wild creatures and flourishing plants. In the darkest nights when there is no moon, they also skirt the edges of the eighty-foot high metal Wall that seals the City off from everywhere else. There, they listen to the news from the rats and pigeons and crows, from the little patches of grass and old puddles of rain.

From the fireroad ridge where their cart now passes, its wheels crunching and squeaking through the mud, they can see the silhouette of the City, sharp-lined and tall, across the water. They stop in a wide patch of road where the view is the best and light a fire in the belly of the woodstove.

“Now listen, Mallow,” Angelica, the sister-twin, says, stroking the ears of a young hare-leveret who sits in her lap. Her brother Gabriel holds a big barn owl in his own lap, and Mallow, the young hare, eyes it in a panic. “She isn’t going to harm you. We’ve worked this out. She knows it’s for a larger good so she’s going to curb her appetite and carry you gently.”

“Abominable,” hisses the hare, blinking his dark eyes and lashes, kicking out his back legs. “This is what you did to my sister too? After all this time feeding and caring for us, and teaching us the language of humans, it’s for this? This blasphemy to the name of haredom? To allow oneself to be—” Mallow stutters here—“held by an Owl? An Enemy?”

“Calm down, Mallow,” says Gabriel in a stern tone, touching the hare with the hand he shares with his sister. This seems to soothe him slightly.

“You have to trust us,” says Angelica. “What would be the point of feeding you to an owl after all this time? Now listen. Let her carry you, and don’t fight. If you fight she’ll loose her balance and drop you. Now, the owl knows her way straight to the Cloister of Grace and Progress. She’s going to drop you there in a courtyard at the second hour past midnight. You are to find a boy named Tin. Tin is your charge.”

So if you'd like to run along and sign yourself or some young one you know up for the Leveret Letters, come along here and do so right here! Your subscription will start with the first chapters, and roll on accordingly, arriving at every full moon. A little magical escape....

Oh yes, and one more very important tidbit. My partner Simon is going to be doing little line illustrations for the Leveret Letters, and here is the first! I won't post them in the future, so they come as a surprise, but you can get a sense of his magical dark slightly haunting but also rather cosy style right here:

Simon Woodard (c) 2013
Marvelous, eh?

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