Gone Looking for Swans

Mythtelling assumes that the stories already exist in nature, waiting to be overheard by humans who will listen for them…a myth is the power of place speaking.

Sean Kane, wisdom of the mythtellers

David Abrams, Sharon Blackie, and many others speak of the relationship between Story and Place. Keith H. Basso devotes his book Wisdom Sits in Places to the relationship of landscape, language, and story among the Western Apache. As was it told to him:

“Wisdom sits in places. It’s like water that never dries up. You need to drink water to stay alive, don’t you? Well, you also need to drink from places. You must remember everything about them. You must learn their names. You must remember what happened at them long ago. You must think about it and keep thinking about it. Then your mind will become smoother and smoother.”

For the past few months, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of Place. We’ve lived here for 6 years. Although I have begun to put down roots, they have not yet deepened as I long for them to do here in North Carolina. Since I’ll live here the last years of my life, I keep the process alive. The big old oaks and the animals in our neighborhood (owls, hawks, crows, possums, a beautiful fox — and, I’m told, also a racoon) all help me grow roots. Seeing wild swans here in NC feels just like what I need now to be totally Here.

Living in Virginia at the edge of the ancient Appalachians and in the midst of woods filled with a wonderful assortment of wildlife, including a doe nesting near the house, bears that came to eat our pears, & herons nesting by and guarding the clear Tye River, I easily took root. Cris & I took 2 winter trips up to Chincoteague just to hang out for a while with the flocks of birds that had made their yearly trip down from the north. That felt so real and so magical! It enlarged my sense of place. But, now that I long to see a tundra swan again, Chicoteague is too far.

Googling has led me to a cluster of National Wildlife Refuges near the shore — just 2 and 1/2 hours from here — with overwintering birds and even some red wolves that are part of the re-wilding program there. So — we’re off this week to be with the birds for a few days! Though I doubt if we’ll see any wolves, it will be so good to know that we are in the woods with them, and they may be seeing us.

I’m being very careful about Covid, but since we found a place to stay with its own kitchen, I feel safe enough to go. We’ll be back Friday, the 28th, and next week I’ll let you know how it went.

In the meantime, I spent some time this weekend working with fiber. My intuition was right: Clearing space through gifting has led to an amazing upsurge of creative energy. My re-engagement with a partially completed project led me around in some circles until I realized a significant change in direction was required. Sometimes working/making with fiber or words seems like putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw with no image of the completed picture to guide me. But then, that’s the fun — the discovery, at the end, of what the materials and I have co-created! I am continually surprised!

When I finished this particular mask, I thought “he” might be the Spirit of Ochre, but as I tried to entice “him” into possible ochre-y cave-like contexts, she shook her head firmly and said “No, I am a dream of Sunrise.” OK. I wove this for her & now she seems satisfied and settled. I’ll fiddle some more with hair and fringe, sew in the loose ends, line the mask, and put it together when we get home.

Dream Towards Sunrise (wool, alpaca, silk) MCK

In the meantime, while I thought I was heading in that direction, I became fascinated by Ochre — painted on cave walls and on bodies around the world, sculptured on hair in Africa, used as protection from insects & sunburn & as a dietary supplement, and in prehistoric times a key ingredient in an adhesive used to attach stone points of arrows & spears to their shafts. Ochre is a form of earth sacred to humans. It is believed by some to have been instrumental in the spread of our ancient ancestors and possibly in their physical development. So, here is my current heap of inspiring colors & textures, including some samples I over-dyed with walnut and iron to tone down the too-bright terracotta. (The colors are more subtle, not as bright as in the photo.) We’ll see where it goes….?….!

Love & blessings, Margery (Tuesday, January 5)

7 thoughts on “Gone Looking for Swans

  1. Place: for many years I thought my place was near the sea. I grew up in California, a place that has every geographical formation and climate. When we began our vagabond years, living in several states, a process that took 11 years, I realized that every place hols wonder, heart-tugging beauty and most of all, story…

    We have lived on a tropical island with beaches galore in Maui; a snowy mountainous little Bavarian town in Washington where having never lived in snow country it was quite the adventure!); a large sprawling wildflower oasis in the Texas Hill Country; a quiet lovely little valley, nine miles from the Cherokee National Forest in the Southern Appalachian mountains of eastern Tennessee and now we live and will remain in the mystical, ancient desert land of New Mexico.

    I take to heart what the late Irish poet, philosopher, ex-priest, John O’Donohue said about place: “When you bring your body out into the landscape, you bring your body home where it belongs when you step outside. It matters if you see landscape as a location or if you see it as walking into a living place.”


  2. One of my dreams is to attach my masks to backgrounds like you do. I was just going to frame them against black velvet, but they’ll be so much more at home against a felted woolen background. I love your ochre colors – coincidentally, I just pulled out a pile of red, purple, yellow scraps. Warm colors, needed this time of year!


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