Friday, August 15, 2014

Elk Lines: The Stamps & the Story-Cases

On Saturday August 2nd, Lughnasadh, the inaugural mailing of Elk Lines began its arrival from here to Australia and back again. This time, much to my pleasure, all of the stamps on the envelopes were my own design... for of course I needed a strange elk with a hand on his belly, Old Sally's tea kettle and the alder-burl teacup of the Elk People, the Point Reyes Peninsula itself, a lupine flower, a California poppy. My several months' Gathering Time inspired in me enough confidence to begin using more of my humble sketching and watercoloring skills to enhance and decorate these Wild Tale offerings...and how liberating and satisfying it feels! I tend to draw very much from things I see, unlike in my writing life; it is a nice change for my brain I think, and I find I've learned the details of certain plants, landscapes and animals really well only through the act of sketching.

This new project of mine, this Elk Lines, is among other things (besides being a retelling of the Handless Maiden story) a deep exploration of the songlines and storylines of the Point Reyes Peninsula, its animals, plants, stones, waters, winds. So the stamp of the Peninsula herself is a particular favorite of mine; she is her own nomad creature, roaming ever north.

Here is an excerpt, to give those of you not subscribed a flavor and a feeling of this strange and many-faceted novel...

It is very simple. There is a doorway on the western edge of Tomales Point, where a line of granite stones, millennia old, bisects a footpath carved first by elk and native human feet, then, much later, by Spanish longhorn cattle, then the dairy ranching Pierce family, and later still, the National Park Service. Naturally, the doorway is difficult to see except in a particular slant of sun or moon, while the tide far down to the west reaches a particular degree of zenith.
 That’s where the Elk People came from. They sprinkled ocean salt, removed their shoes and held them in one hand, right foot first, and refrained from sneezing, though Old Sally later joked with her even older husband Mino that she might have ruined it all had she not plugged her nose, looked away from the sun, and made her cataracts very much worse for the effort. Nursing babies were pulled temporarily off the breast. Antonia and Zsusannah sang the offering songs—of fog, of elephant seal, of badger, of lupine, of ghost—and even the elk, weighted though they were with tents and kettles, fiddles, pots, pans and skins, stepped softly. When they were all through—twenty-nine men, women and children, nine elk, and one grizzly bear with a cub who had only just learned to walk—Antonia closed the door and locked it with a bone key. It is best to keep such doors closed, on the whole; one never knows who might stumble the wrong way to here or there.
The Elk People arrived on the morning of the first summer fog. In Point Reyes, as in much of coastal California, summer was not a neat three months in a seasonal round of twelve, nor was spring, nor winter, nor fall. Summer began when the last of the rain was gone from the bellies of the grasses, and the hills went gold, the color of mountain lion haunches and elk withers. Summer began when the pink clarkias and pearly everlasting flowers bloomed inside that dryness, and the fog began to roll in almost every morning along the coast, holding the wild beaches of Limantour and Drake, North, South, Abbott, Kehoe, McClure, with shifting, salt-sweet white. Summer began also when the last golden-crowned sparrows left for the northern tundras and the frequency of their mournful songs was replaced by the fecund trill of the just-arrived Swainson’s thrushes.
So the Elk People did not arrive in summer, exactly, but rather on the morning when summer first hinted again of her existence within the brief green hills of spring: a hip of fog along the Inverness Ridge that moved down its canyons like cloth unfurled from a woman’s hands. It was a morning in mid-April, when the wildflowers—baby blue eyes, irises, shooting stars, ground lupines, cream cups—were still at the height of their lives and pounced hourly by pollen-drunk bees, no hint of withering or yellowing yet at their petals. Only the faintest blush of gold had appeared on the south-facing slope of Black Mountain, which rose to the east of Point Reyes Station like a knuckled fist.

I am now hard at work on the second installment, which will arrive on September 21st, the fall equinox. This is also when the next round of new subscriptions will go out, so you are welcome to join in the elk-hoofed caravan and receive your first Elk Lines on the fall equinox! The whole thing works on a rolling basis... You can sign up here. 

I find I write best when the work of the mind is balanced with the work of the hands, as I've written many times by now. So I've also been felting and embroidering story-cases, to hold said Elk Lines.

These days, my studio desk is increasingly a haystack.

And since I was embroidering while using a haystack as a desk and textile studio combined, with hay everywhere underfoot, I learned the true meaning of trying to find a needle in a haystack. Let me tell you, this is a very frustrating experience. Needles glint just like hay when the sun is on them. They vanish immediately, even if you think your eyes have followed them to the ground. I lost at least two, and felt rather stupid, since it was after all my own fault, sitting in a hay-pile while sewing. I did, however, also find my needle in the haystack at least once, which made me feel like a fairytale luck had momentarily been bestowed upon me by the watching bushtits, or perhaps the mysterious hay itself.

Lost needles aside, sewing is much more interesting when done outside. These story-cases were felted and sewn as the towhees and hummingbirds watched, as the sun changed and the fog rolled in and the wind blew.

Some are naturally dyed an olive green with coyote brush, while others I kept the natural browns and whites of their wool.

I can imagine Old Sally or Antonia with such a felted case strapped to the side of their elk. When unrolled, it would reveal not envelopes full of stories but something far more mysterious and strange; I shall leave that tale up to you!

And so there you have it, a taste of these Elk Lines in word, image and textile. This story seems to want to come out of me through all possible mediums; and what a delicious feeling that is, to feel engaged hand and heart with it in this way with a tale, and to be able to share it all with you.

If you missed the link above, and would like to look more closely at these story-cases, follow along here. 


  1. I see nothing more important in life than doing what you love, for then surely everything falls into place and is as it should be... It obvious you love what you do, the Elk Lines looks and sounds beautiful.

  2. I noticed your stamps on my first issue of Elk Lines. They are wonderful - you might even consider selling them to subscribers.

    On another note, will Elk Lines be available as back issues if I were to miss one during the series? Or will I need to wait until after the last cycle to get one.

    1. Yes, absolutely you can purchase back issues if need be! Just buy a single installment and then let me know-- of course I will also be keeping track of where you are in the cycle, so if you miss an installment and then subscribe again, I will just start you wherever you left off. :) xx, S

  3. Dearest Sylvia, you my friend are creatrix, a magic maker, an inspirator like no other. Your words cast spells and lead us into otherly worlds. You show us secret and hidden doorways into marvelous dimensions, the ones that are hidden from plain sight, but there just round the corner. Thank You, for doing the work that you do, for giving yourself to the muse with such surrender and dedication, and for sharing the mysterious and enchanted tales/poetry/story/art that comes through. Blessings from a sticky kitchen after the honey harvest. Xo Nao