Wednesday, May 13, 2015

To Ring A Bell

In our garden, the earliest south-facing peaches, the ones that live next to the beehives, are a ripe riot of velvet and sweet. It seems that this year, the bees managed to pollinate just about every single flower, so the boughs are heavy and a little too crowded with small but glorious fruits. 

Fruit is made to be enjoyed by the tastebuds of animals, just like flowers are made to be enjoyed by the tastebuds of bees and butterflies and other nectar-lovers. Fruit is made to evoke pleasure, to make the tongue curl with sweet giddiness. Plants offer fruits like a great ringing of wedding bells to the palates of birds and foxes, bears and squirrels, mice and coyotes and humans alike. All of us, seduced by that chiming sweetness, help the fruit by carrying its seed off into the world, into new soil. This is an ancient pact, a primordial relationship; the earliest original fruit trees shaped us as much as we then shaped them. 

Their sweetness—the way a handful of fresh blackberries or the first bite of a perfect apricot is almost indecently sensuous, erotic even—knows us, wants us to enjoy it. After all, as Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells us, the word erotic in its essence means to be in relationship with. This is the original wild wedding: between body, tongue and the fruit of the land.

Apricots, ripening
The taste of fruit rings bells in our bodies older than our species, as old as tongues and stomachs and mammalian milk. It is sometimes hard for me to believe that our bodies have changed very little in the last 200,000 years of our history as Homo Sapiens. Our bodies were made wedded to the land, in deep relationship with the fruiting of fruits, the blooming of blooms, the coming and going of seasons, the calls of birds, the births of fawns, because all of these things were wired deep into our survival. We carry the same bodies and the same brains as those created in such a context; it is no wonder we find ourselves in trouble these days--globally, culturally, individually, emotionally, spiritually, physically. It is also no wonder that certain things ring bells in us older than words; that sometimes we feel our blood or our hearts stirred far deeper than the knowings of this lifetime. 

Certain plants draw us in when we need them (like this collection of friends from a walk in Point Reyes did me last week, a most excellent tea: nettle, horsetail, california poppy, alder leaf, monkeyflower); our bodies know their medicine, even if we've never even learned their names. Certain places—the marshy edges of bays, with a thick cover of alders—make us feel safe though we've hardly spent any time in them. The experience of examining animal tracks in sand--gray fox, river otter, bobcat, vole--makes us feel almost giddy with excitement, not just with the newness of it all, but with the deep familiarity too. 

It makes me feel comforted, safer somehow in this big strange modern world, to know that these relationships are still available all around us; that even if our minds are clouded or forget, even if we are overly dependent on our light switches and sleek computers, our cars and running water and grocery stores, our bodies still, after all this time, have systems of little bells that ring ring ring when an old connection is made, an old friend encountered (poppy, robin, peach), when the primordial beauty of earthen things is near. 

This, I think, is what Dr. Estés means by the erotic. A relationship with the living world that sets the body's bells ringing with memories both near and very far, memories as new as yesterday and as old as the mammalian placenta, or even older-- the bird's egg, the snake's nest. 

A lady anna's hummingbird has made her nest in the bamboo outside our bathroom window. In it, she's laid two eggs. She sits diligently every day, her fuschia throat a tiny jewel. To watch her, to praise her; this rings an ancient bell, an almost painful bell, in the heart.

The black phoebes have had children, now fledged, who sit on fence posts all throughout the garden, looking somewhat confused and cheeping loudly for food. Two very harried parents dart around after bugs and try to keep their children, who flap very clumsily, out of the sights of the cooper's hawk who makes an appearance every afternoon. They ring bells too.

The garden is alive fruit, with eggs, with tiny babies hidden in spidersilk nests (and, I suspect, nests made with fluffy bits of Hawthorn's wool). Sometimes I sit under the apricot tree (whose fruits are still green), and for a moment get this overwhelming sense of the pulse of life, just in this one big garden. It's a great bell, ringing. How many bird families are being raised around me. How many precious blossoms are now on their way to fruit. How many bees.

Kiwi flowers
"When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

-Mary Oliver

And so, in honor of bells and fruiting and the wild marriage of humans and land, I introduce June's full moon Tinderbundle, Bell. When Catherine Sieck (the Marvelous Mistress of all paper cut art) first sent me her extraordinary cut, inspired by a series of conversations we'd had about the theme, I was, as usual, blown away. In reply I sent her these words, which seem to touch on something essential about this bundle, something loose and free:

We are the seed of the fruit, stitched with that sweetness, dangling from the vine, the fruit plucked somehow our own heart and hearth...And these dancing faces--- I see them as masks; I see a great dance of humans masked like the giddy spirits of the earth, honoring the harvest, honoring our own many faces, from maid to mother to crone and all the ones between, lover and jester, fool and fiend, fruiting and dying and fruiting again within us. Dancing round fires, wassailing the orchards in masks that blend the worlds. How there is a pear in the heart. The stars as sacred fruit. The monkeys in our own limbs, our fruiting primordial roots in trees. 

So. June's Full Moon Tinderbundle, Bell, is about what it means to be the bride or bridegroom of the living land. What it means to be part of this feral fecund marriage. What it means to give your heart to the world, and your body too, in honor of the sensuous long days of a fruiting summer, in honor of the bells of joy that live inside every single one of our bodies, that ring in sympathy with the bells of all life, when they are first alight and alive within us. In honor, too, of the dying back that necessarily follows the fruiting, that nourishes the next season, and what new, ringing seeds may root there. 

As such, Catherine and I decided to time this Bundle to arrive in time for the full moon of June (the 2nd), instead of the new moon of May-- since the great Strawberry (or Rose) Moon is, in its silver fullness, its own great Bell.

It will be a chiming invocation of the bells that ring in our bodies; it will be a celebration of fruit, of the tales that exist the world over of children born in the pits of peaches, the cores of pears; it will be a love song and an incantation both.

It will also be the last Tinderbundle. 

Don't fear! There are many more things on the horizon, but this will be the last Tinderbundle in this form and under this particular name. Catherine and I have other projects simmering away, similar but simpler; and I have a few collaborations coming up with some beautiful herbalist women this summer... New fruits are ripening on the trees of the imagination as the seasons shift and sway.

So if you'd like a Tinderbundle this June; if you've been thinking about purchasing one but haven't gotten around to it, now would be the time! This bundle will also include, besides a story/poem and two prints, a silk scarf dyed with loquat leaves, a tin of gardener's hand salve made with herbs from my garden, and a tiny bell....

There are only 20 Bell Tinderbundles left! So hurry along here for yours!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Taking Elk Lines to the Elk Lines

Under the Beltane full moon, under the milk moon, I took the nearly completed manuscript of Elk Lines out to a little cabin on the Inverness Ridge, in Point Reyes, to walk it among the real elk lines of the land. It has been a wonderful and enlightening and sometimes challenging experience to send a novel out in parts every six weeks; it's the way Dickens and other Victorian novelists first wrote some of their own stories, and they too learned, long before me, that a novel written thus needs a good tighten once it's done. 

I edited with red pen on the shores of ocean and bay, hoping that I was leaving space, by carrying the manuscript out thus, for the land to have its say. To make sure my words do as much justice as they can to this place. 

There were flowers to be gathered on roadsides to honor the big old moon, and little clamshells to be treasured, for their humble history of nourishment.

The fog was in thick, so thick out on Tomales Point that it did indeed walk with elk hooves, holding everything in a damp palm.

I left bits of juniper from the Sierras in the pawprints of a gray fox I sat beside for an afternoon, pen scribbling away, tightening and cutting and smoothing the story into a new whole. It is a precious place, where a gray fox paw has touched the earth. 

The irises are still a riot of bloom. I don't know how they sustain their delicate purple petals under as much a sun as we've been having. They are so hardy.

I contemplated the three mile, ten foot tall elk fence which bisects the southern portion of Tomales Point, keeping the tule elk in. This fence was erected due to the fact that there are dairy ranches right on the other side, and a tenuous relationship between park land and dairy land, environmental interests and ranching interests... and elk, roaming totally free, eat the grass meant for cows! But something very sad has happened in the last three years, something I only learned in the past week. Over half the 500 tule elk on Tomales Point have died. That's 250 dead elk, in a span of three years. The reason is the drought, but it is a manmade reason-- since the elk can't leave to find year round streams, they're stuck with old cattle ponds that have since gone dry. So over three years, half the elk have slowly parched to death. This is really quiet cruel.  (Note also that the elk that roam free in the southern portions of Point Reyes, near Muddy Hollow and Limantour, have survived the drought in a more regular fashion, since they can travel to find water. In those areas, however, they come into frequent conflict with dairy farms, because they're good at jumping fences! It seems to me that the cows have more than enough room... I'm sure you can guess whose side I'm on here!)

People will argue-- oh, they don't have enough predators out there, some are bound to die in a drought, etc, etc. This may be true. But there's a deeper point--one of relationship, and of responsibility. We make the elk our responsibility by unnaturally fencing them in. And yet a cow, or a dog, would never be left to die of thirst. What does this say about the family of things, and attitude toward it? What is the "value" of an elk, and what is the "value" of a cow?

There is of course the even deeper issue-- who has the right to this land? Yikes. A big topic, a controversial topic. There is a lot of pride around the heritage of dairy farms throughout Point Reyes, and I respect and support this heritage, and all the families it has supported. However, cows may have been here for 200 years, but elk-- thousands, thousands, thousands. Who has the right to this land? It is a question that hurts in me; I love this place deeply, but I don't feel I have a right to it. If I could, I'd give it all back to the native people who cared for it best, people who are almost gone. But then, what would I love? Where would I settle down? It's an unanswerable riddle, but just airing it sometimes feels helpful. And it seems we can only earn our place somewhere if we love and respect all of the beings to whom it belongs, human interests only an equal slice in the pinwheel of needs and niches.

Anyway. I had a startling thought as I studied the elk fence from afar, noting the stark line of shorn grass on the cow side. I wondered if, a year ago when I visited this place with Asia Suler, the first stirrings of Elk Lines just beginning in me, when I first asked the place to guide my writing hand with whatever new project needed to come through-- I wondered if the elk, already dying of drought, had in some way spoken. Tell our story. Tell our story. Asia and I buried a quartz crystal in a patch of iris where we watched a herd of female elk and their calves graze. I knew with certainty on that day that my next story would be about elk. It became very clear. I thought of that quartz often as I wrote, hoping I was writing true. In my story, the elk are dying of disease, spread from the cows. I had no idea the elk of Point Reyes were truly dying in any unnatural way at all, until now. I wonder if this is partly why this story came.

I hope desperately I can do them justice in whatever humble way I can manage. Even if it is "all in the balance," and the "natural order of things," half the population here is dead. Brother elk, sister elk, son elk, mother elk.  Dead too fast. Don't think they do not mourn one another. It is dangerous, when we forget this. When we trick ourselves into thinking animals have no emotions, and therefore death by thirst is no big deal. I read once that when Bernie Krause, a soundscape ecologist, heard a father beaver discover that his dam with mate and babies inside had been destroyed, the keening sound he made long into the night, circling and circling, was the most heart breaking noise Krause had ever heard. It reduced him to tears. He instantly recognized, in the part of him that was no different than the beaver, the sound of animal grieving.