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


  1. She's is a wonderful witch, and makes an ideal guardian. A lovely blog post

  2. My Dear Sylvia~ I am not sure how you do it. How you are able to say that which seems unsayable, how you are able to weave words together, in such a way that they can actually hold the beauty of this world. What a magical time we had here on Honey Grove, in your heartfelt company. Thank you for this exquisite reflection of the land we love, of this place that we call home. With the deepest appreciation for your friendship and your authentic and beautiful way in this world. All Our Love. N and M and G.

  3. Sylvia, your words are always a kind of wonderful earthy meditation for my soul. Blessings to you and your gift.

  4. Such beautiful words Sylvia, I didn't ever want them to stop....
    Many thanks to you for sharing your words here, for us to read. Such special words indeed.x

  5. p.s and the photos... they are absolutely beautiful too!

  6. Such beautiful words dear Sylvia. It's an honour to be mentioned and such a blessing to spend time with you. Thank you for offering us this beautifully captured image of something completely uncapturable.

  7. thank you for this wonderful post Sylvia. I'm loving the mountain lion's languor, what lessons she (and you) bring into our lives!