It Begins With A Story

This week I have been “downsizing” — deciding which books need to leave my shelves and go out into the world where they can do more good. It has turned out to be a lot easier to let go & a lot more difficult to find recipients than I’d thought. Many libraries are no longer taking donations (even of excellent & like-new books that should be on their shelves) & the various “book fairs” at churches & synagogues seem to have gone out of existence with the pandemic. I’d hoped to celebrate this liberation of knowledge and inspiration — imagining the books flying off to new minds & hearts — but most of the books are just going to our rather dreary local used book store or to Goodwill — with hopes that each book will somehow find the person who needs it. I’ve got 17 or 18 excellent books on Andean textiles, arts, and history. Several are about techniques for us to learn but most tend to be on the “academic” side with loads of glorious color photos. They are wonderful! I thought I’d found the perfect recipient but have heard nothing back yet so if anyone is interested in exploring the amazing ancient Andean arts more deeply, please let me know.

I comfort myself by remembering a particular time when I passed a bookshop in Harvard Square (knowing it didn’t carry the kind of book I was seeking that day) and turned around, entered it, picked a random book off the display table & opened it to a poem that changed my life. And I remember Matt Fox’s stories of books inexplicably tumbling off bookshelves & hitting the people who needed them.

On the more positive side, I have, on my ever-so-crowded shelves, come across gems that I’d forgotten. Sometimes it is a whole book that I want to reread, sometimes just a few underlined words that open beautiful windows in what I am experiencing as a rather dim & dreary present.

One lovely thing I encountered (ah, sweet serendipity!) was Rumi’s poem “Story-Water” (translation/version by Coleman Barks):

A story is like the water
you heat for your bath.

It takes messages between the fire
and your skin. It lets them meet,
and it cleans you.

Very few can sit down
in the middle of the fire itself
like a salamander or Abraham.
We need intermediaries.

A feeling of fullness comes,
but usually it takes some bread
to bring it.

Beauty surrounds us,
but usually we need to be walking
in a garden to know it.

The body itself is a screen
to shield and partially reveal
the light that blazing
inside your presence.

Water, stories, the body,
all the things we do, are mediums
that hide and show what's hidden.

Study them,
and enjoy this being washed
with a secret we sometimes know,
and then not.

“Water, stories, the body, all the things we do, are mediums that hide and show what is hidden.”

The most important thing I can do this week is to share with you the link to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s exquisite essay Returning the Gift:

https://www.humansandnature.org/returning-the-gift-2021

The stories we tell, the way we use language, the names we give or withhold — all have an indelible impact on our lives & relationships and thus on the entire web of life. Dr. Kimmerer’s essay begins, as so many of our thoughts do, with a story — The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, as told by her Potawatomi ancestors — and leads us into a new understanding of gratitude & the joys of responsibility: a way forward.

If you like, you might ask yourself as I have, about the Origin Story you tell yourself & how it shapes your days and how it reverberates through the whole web of Life.

If you talk to animals they will talk with you and you will know each other.

If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear.

What one fears one destroys.

          -- Chief Dan George, My Heart Soars

What is a Story?

Dear Ones, After a month or more of profound insomnia, my brain is on strike. I’m filled with questions, but as soon as I start to formulate one, a dozen new questions arise from it like a flock of crows and fly off in all directions, stealing all the meat from the few bony words I’d managed to arrange in my mind or on the page.

Today I have been pondering the definition, the concept, the limits of Story — but, like Trickster, Story’s meaning resists such cages, slips out between the bars or wastes away in captivity. Perhaps for me, “Story,” like “Trickster,” can only be approached as a koan.

We’ve all heard the Zen koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

“…in the beginning a monk first thinks a kōan is an inert object upon which to focus attention; after a long period of consecutive repetition, one realizes that the kōan is also a dynamic activity, the very activity of seeking an answer to the kōan. The kōan is both the object being sought and the relentless seeking itself. In a kōan, the self sees the self not directly but under the guise of the kōan…When one realizes (“makes real”) this identity, then two hands have become one. The practitioner becomes the kōan that he or she is trying to understand. That is the sound of one hand.”

— G. Victor Sogen Hori, Translating the Zen Phrase Book

Linda Hogan, Chicksaw poet & writer, has simply said:

“To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen.”

That which opens our eyes to “reservoirs of light and fire”….. There are many ways to open our eyes.

In a recent blog, Jude Hill https://clothwhispering.com/2021/06/18/it-comes-together-by-being/ describes her stitching of cloth as the telling of stories:

I do believe that artistic expression is rooted in witnessing the world around us and the need to understand and communicate, with ourselves and then with others. In order to do this, we choose a medium and I have chosen cloth. I like to use the word cloth because unlike textile or fabric, cloth most often refers to a finished piece of fabric that can be used for a purpose. And part of the purpose can be to communicate and that is where we find the story.

All my cloths are stories. They could be stories about the people I make them for, or stories about me. Or simply stories about life’s journey or nature or color or shape (this year it is the square). I consider stitching a cloth to be a sort of documentary, a time line of thought and process, no matter how long it takes. Telling a story is a way to share what you have learned through experience…and that is ultimately who you are. Story cloth may take many forms. It might be a story generated as the answer to a question, like “what is trees had feathers??? It could focus on a single word or thought like a magic feather which you might think about a lot until it becomes a personal symbol. Or, my favorite, a story cloth can be the story of the cloth making itself. Even a sampler is a story, a story of a little time spent on a specific technique, or a collection of wonderful memories stitched together into something useful. Even a beautiful piece of fabric has a story in it waiting to be told.”

  > Here I'd love to include examples of Jude's wonderful cloths but am defeated by technology 
-- hers or mine or some combination of the two.  
Please check out her work at 
https://www.instagram.com/spiritcloth/ 

How many ways can stories be told?

I tend to tell stories through written words, though I believe oral stories are far richer than printed ones. I guess I am also telling stories through my work with fiber (weaving, felting, etc.) but it really feels more like engaging in conversation. Indeed, if stories are being told, it is usually the fiber that is doing the telling! Sometimes in my work with both words & fiber I feel more like listener than teller. (Are the two separate?) In any case, in such engagements, my eyes are being opened to the reservoirs of fire and light Linda Hogan describes, and sometimes also to the ashes of fires past or to the shadows behind the flames — which are, in their own ways, sources of illumination as well.

How do you tell your stories?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts & your stories about Story.

Excuses…

There are many things I’d like to have explored with you today, but this has not turned out to be — for me — a good week for that kind of journey of heart, head, or hands. My old habits are urging me to provide you with plausible explanations & profuse apologies but, instead, I will offer this poem — written for a class several years ago:

I CANNOT WRITE THIS POEM BECAUSE...

I cannot write this poem because
the witch who lives at the top of the stairs
will not give permission for me to speak.
Silence, she hisses.  Stop.
Be still or you'll wake 
the dragon who slumbers below.

And what are poems but dragon dreams
of soaring wings over desert wastes
whose sands have buried a thousand worlds,
or of deepest dive through salty light
to labyrinth cave where treasure gleams
with wink and promise of what might be?

No.
I cannot write
for witch forbids
and dragon sleeps
and, in any case,
the child
has hidden 
all my pens.

“What poetry knows, or what it strives to know, is the dancing at the heart of being.”

–Robert Bringhurst

There is a Thread…..

2 postscripts to last week’s blog:

> I’d forgotten that I’d made a follow-the-thread book for my son, but after he saw last Friday’s post he sent a photo. Here, as in last week’s book, between ‘Dream’ and ‘Dare,’ ‘Decide’ is printed in many different & enticing fonts — hidden behind double doors because, as you’ve no doubt figured out, deciding between all the wonderful possibilities can be a block to my process, a weak point in my thread. Then, at the end, ‘Depart’ opens to reveal ‘Dream’ because completion & letting go open up space for new dreams to appear & unfold. I’m posting his photo here because I like this book better than the one posted last week & because it includes Raven, that old Trickster who is an embodiment of human Creativity (for good or for ill) & who seems to keep popping up in my life

> I also want to share a bit of serendipity. Last week, I wrote of my struggle with choice & form. So imagine my chuckle Friday morning when I opened Jude Hill’s blog https://clothwhispering.com/2021/06/18/it-comes-together-by-being/  and saw her title, which seems to simply bypass my quandary: “it comes together by being.” And then her first two sentences provided me with a wonderful new mantra: “Today I am composed. I am the Composition.” Such reassurance — just what I needed!

Here, once again — for those of you who missed it last week and just because I like it & keep finding more to ponder in it — is William Stafford’s poem:

"There's a thread you follow. It goes among
 things that change. But it doesn't change.
 People wonder about what you are pursuing.
 You have to explain about the thread.
 But it is hard for others to see.
 While you hold it you can't get lost.
 Tragedies happen; people get hurt
 or die; and you suffer and get old.
 Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
 You don't ever let the thread go."
                             ~ William Stafford

I have been thinking a lot this week about “thread.”

What is a “thread”? Although the terms are often used interchangeably in common speech, “thread” and “filament” are distinct. A filament is a single continuous untwisted strand, like a spider’s web or the strand we pull from a silkworm’s cocoon. A thread, on the other hand, is created by twisting together a number of long filaments (like silk) or shorter fibers (like wool or cotton) to create a new unity, drawn out into one continuous, three-dimensional line.

The ability to make thread goes far back in our human story. It has been hypothesized that the twisting of thread was one on our earliest technologies. Archaeological data about the most ancient threads is hard to find, for threads are made of organic materials that don’t survive time and change as easily as do bones and stones. Recently, through, thread remnants dating back to around 41,000 to 52,000 years ago were discovered in southern France in a rock shelter that had been inhabited by Neanderthals — those distant cousins who lived at the same time and in the same places as the Homo Sapiens who had emerged from Africa, the two groups interacting in ways that we are just beginning to understand. These particular ancient strands of thread were found wrapped around a stone tool, probably used to attach it firmly to its haft. https://www.npr.org/2020/04/10/828400733/the-oldest-string-ever-found-may-have-been-made-by-neanderthals

Joining — filaments twisted together to make thread which was in turn twisted around stone & wood or bone to join unlike elements, to create something new, an axe perhaps or a spear. I think, too, about how Neanderthal DNA has been found in much Homo Sapien DNA — twisting together, part of the spinning of our ancestral thread. Joining…

The root of our English word “thread” is the proto-Germanic word for “twist.” In many ways, the Key to a Thread is in the Twist.

The Strength is in the Twist. Loosely twisted, fibers separate easily & the thread breaks apart when subjected to even slight stress.. Tightly twisted, the thread holds firm against increased force.

A thread is not a separate simple and singular entity but an interactive community. And when the community is large enough, when many threads are twisted together, the new thread gains in strength. Even grass can become strong enough to make a functioning bridge if enough fibers are twisted together. Communities of thread joining together communities of humans ….

When I think about the Thread in Stafford’s poem, I realize that mine is not a single filament, but a twisting together of many diverse longings and curiosities. (Silk, wool, llama fiber, cotton, linen — let’s see what else we can add to this strange thread!) As Stafford says, it is hard to explain to others, but it it real & it is strong. I’m still finding out out where this thread will take me, and I am spinning it as I go.

We speak of “spinning a yarn,” telling a tale. Can we think of Stories as Threads?

Alix E. Harrow writes that stories “are the red threads that we may follow out of the labyrinth.” That is true, in my experience, of many stories — as it is also true that other stories, other threads have led me deeper into labyrinths of mind & spirit or even created labyrinths of their own.

Trickster is certainly a thread, a paradoxical twisting together of incompatible concepts/behaviors/ways of being, who has joined in the twist of my inner Thread.

Today I am thinking especially about the notion of “Joining,” of how metaphors and stories twist together various fibers to form new concepts, feelings, insights. And I am thinking about how stories grow and change as they meet and interact with other stories. I am wondering how strong a community might become if its stories twisted together many disparate threads into one thread.

“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”

— Barry Lopez

Seeking the Form, Following the Thread

Some years ago, I took a week-long intensive Storytelling class that shifted and widened my angle of perception & that continues to nourish my spirit. Our teacher, Luisah Teish (author, artist-activist, and Oshun chief in the Yoruba Lucumi tradition) helped us engage our bodies, minds, and hearts as we brought into consciousness & into our lives the power of the stories we tell, the names we choose. At the start of the course, she told us that whenever we begin a new endeavor — especially one of a ritual nature — we must be careful to set a clear Intention. Any beginning is a Crossroads, she cautioned, and that is precisely where Trickster likes to lurk, just waiting to lead you astray.

Apparently the intentions I set when I started this blog were still pretty fuzzy, and Trickster has been happy to appoint himself tour guide, tugging at my sleeve saying “This way… No, this way… Or how about that way…”. And, as always, he howls with delight as he watches me stumble in dizzying circles.

Is this blog about the nature of Story or about telling the stories themselves? About spinning a tale or spinning yarn? About weaving words into thoughts or thoughts into words or wool into fabric? About something else entirely? With everything in the Cosmos interconnected and interacting with everything else, what is one to do?

My life tends to be odd scraps of paper & snippets of thought & loose wisps of assorted fibers, just waiting to take part in some mischief or other. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time simply rummaging about, wondering “Where did I put this, that, or the other?” Sometimes, the chaotic juxtapositions lead to discovery: “Oh! Look how interestingly these two disparate fragments can fit together.” Or simply, “I wonder…”

Then every so often, one bit of writing or yarn will simply pop — literally — to the surface of the heap & say, “Look at me!”

That happened today when I came across this beautiful & particularly apt quote from Wendell Berry:

“There are, it seems, two muses:
the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires,
And
the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say,
‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’

This is the muse of form.

It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction,
to baffle us and deflect our intended course.
It may be that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”


And so, I continue to seek Form(s):

On the left, Thalassa’s world is slowly taking shape. In the back, a small mask tries out a relationship with some wool I’d dyed with acorns & walnuts. And the red on the right is a shawl I’d woven long ago with an idea for a Raven design, only to find once again that grand ideas don’t always translate well into physical form. After some struggling with various possibilties, I’d shoved it up on a high closet shelf in disgust & put it out of my mind for years. But this week, when I stretched up to grab else, the shawl fell out softly onto my head, which immediately filled with new possibilities. I wonder….
Too many intriguing thoughts & magical words …. I wonder….

It is easy to get lost.

Fortunately, as William Stafford assures us:

"There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let the thread go."
The Thread — accordion book MCK

With love & all the blessings of this almost-Solstice day
from your perpetually baffled friend, Margery

Fire and Trickster Dance On

In the dawn-light, I am weaving a basket to hold the stories.
In the sunlight,
In the twilight,
In the starlight,
In the moonlight,
In the dark,
I am weaving a basket to hold the stories.

With my hands I am weaving.
With my voice I am weaving.
With my heart I am weaving.
- Here, now -
I am weaving a basket to hold all the stories.

                  [MCK]
            

I can imagine the Old Ones sitting around a fire, telling stories. The fire in their hearth must have been a welcome and precious guest in the cold, in the dark. They tended it, fed it, watched it move & breath, carefully tended coals overnight to prevent its dying. They told stories of adventures & dreams. And of course they told stories about Fire itself.

Usually, Fire was sacred. Fire was how the god or gods revealed themselves. It was the medium through which they received sacrifices. It was a means by which they showed their divine anger. Because of its inherent power, Fire was – in the stories of a great many cultures — jealously guarded by a divine being. Most often, it took a Trickster (Prometheus in Greece, Maui in Polynesia, Coyote in the Great Plains of Turtle Island, Raven in the Pacific Northwest, Nanabozho in the Eastern Woodlands on Turtle Island, etc.) to trick the ones who hoarded the fire, to steal it, and to bring it back to the People.

In the southeastern part of what is now called the United States, tribes such as the Cherokee and Choctaw had a variety of stories about the theft of Fire that featured a different kind of thief. There have been many retellings, oral and written. One goes something like this:

In the dark times, in the cold times, the People shivered. They all suffered — the winged ones & the legged ones, those that slithered on their bellies and those that swam in the waters. They suffered so greatly that a great council was called, and all the People came. Someone spoke: “I have heard that the Great One has hidden Fire away in a tree stump on an island to the east. Who will go to steal some Fire for us that we may live?”

Immediately a great clamor arose from the crowd of People who had gathered, many boasting that they were the ones who could succeed. Finally Buzzard’s voice rang out above the others. He spread his wings and said: “I can fly far, I can soar high, I can cross to the island and steal some Fire.” “How will you carry it?” asked a voice from the edge of the crowd. “Oh,” said Buzzard, vainly displaying the great plume of feathers that grew on his head, “I can easily hide it in my beautiful crown of feathers.” And off he flew with a rapid flapping of wings, and he did get to island, and he did take some fire. But as he flew proudly away with a coal nestled in his feathery crown, he began to cry “Ow! Ow!” and he shook the bright ember out of his flaming crown, and it & the ashes of his crowning feathers fell into water and were lost. He returned to the council, hanging his bare burnt head in shame.

Next came the possum proudly waving his bushy tail high in the air. “My fur is stronger than mere feathers,” he bragged. “I will swim to the island and bring back some Fire.” And so he swam quickly, and so he hid a warm coal in his bushy tail, and so he set out to cross back to his People. But the ember was hot, and hotter, and “Ow! Ow!” he cried and plunged his tail into the cool waters. The Fire was gone and so was the fur on his tail. And possum, trying to hide his bare pink tail from sight, slunk back to the Council and shook his head.

There was silence. Now, no one wanted to risk the trip.Then a tiny voice spoke up — so small, so quiet that it could barely be heard. “I will go,” said Grandmother Water Spider. “I will bring back some Fire.”

Everyone began to mutter…”You’re too small… You’re too old… You’re only a woman….”

But, distracted by neither the negative clamor nor the shaking of heads, Grandmother Water Spider quietly spun a basket, placed it on her back, and began taking her dainty strides across the surface of the water. It took her a long time. As she approached the island, she heard a great hullabaloo. Voices cried, “Someone has dared to violate the island. Look, someone has been poking at the Fire; someone has stolen an ember or two!” The guardians of the Fire had noticed the tracks of Buzzard & Possum and were rushing around, brandishing weapons, looking for the intruders. But Grandmother Spider didn’t hesitate to come ashore. She was so tiny that no one even noticed her. Calmly she picked up an ember, calmly she put it in her basket, calmly she clamped the lid tight shut to hide the glow, and calmly she set out for home.

When she arrived, the People were overjoyed to see the ember and immediately kindled a blaze that leapt to the sky. They celebrated loudly with singing and dancing and feasting and drumming. And Grandmother Spider walked quietly away from the hubbub and calmly returned to her work of spinning and weaving.

Ah, Grandmother Spider may not be a Trickster but, like Trickster, she goes her own way. (And as Sharon Blackie has pointed out in another context, an Old Crone does contain a lot of Trickster energy.)

Anyway, as an old woman and as a weaver, I found that this version of the coming of Fire immediately spoke to me and lodged itself in my heart.

In general, I am not a fiery person. Except in the case of ecological, political, and social injustice, I am more likely to smolder than flame. But even so, I am alive – so the fire is there.

About 15 years ago, the carefully banked coals within me flared unexpectedly into a poem:

		FIRE

Having been deemed clumsy and
banned at three from ballet class,
she never danced another step.  
Wallflower, unable even to waltz-- 
until at seventy, 
she took up flamenco.

The first time she stamped her feet and clapped her hands, 
it set the smoke detector howling.
The second, it set off every fire alarm on the street.
The neighbors shook their heads.  The fire chief complained.  
The judge took one look at her arched back, high chin, imperious eyes
and forbade dancing after 5 p.m. on weekdays.

That very day, she found a cabin in the forest
and, gathering up cats and castanets,
flounced out of town.

It still happens, now and then, 
that a passing motorist from elsewhere
calls 911 to report a column of smoke 
at the cottage near the crossroads.
The volunteer firemen are required by law to respond
but they all know what to expect.
Arriving on scene, they nod their heads and radio dispatch:
“It’s OK.  
The usual.  
A controlled burn.”


No, I didn’t learn how to dance the flamenco [alas] but, in letting the words flow through me, I felt my fire grow stronger. The story fed the flames.

And then last year, this weaving. In my fiber work, I tend to use the colors of earth and sea, but suddenly I needed Red. I didn’t know why or where it would go, but as I entered into conversation with colors & textures, I felt the fire flickering through my fingers, and I came alive. The work kindled the flame:

Ember Dreaming Flame – Weaving, spinning, crochet, knitting, stitching; Wool, silk, mixed fibers.

EMBER DREAMING FLAME - detail

EMBER DREAMING FLAME — detail

May the Fire that moves through our voices, our hands, our hearts, and our lives be always in service of Life….

*********

Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness … the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.

— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Fire and Trickster

This week I wanted to write about Fire. Like Trickster, Fire is a certainly a boundary-crosser and transformer, one that is insatiably hunger. Like Trickster, Fire destroys, creates, and reveals.

Although we don’t know when humans learned to make fire, archaeologists have found that we have used it (perhaps treasuring embers from lightning strikes) for perhaps as much as 1.6 million years. Human involvement with fire has been intertwined with our physical, social, and technological development.

Some scholars believe that the ability to cook food with fire — thereby releasing more usable calories than are available to our bodies through the consumption of raw foods — was an important milestone on our evolutionary path, making possible the development of our larger brains.

Others focus more on the social aspects of our learning to manage fire. They conjecture that, as we sat around the fire that cooked our supper and provided warmth & light to see each others’ faces and scare away predators, we must have developed language, told each other what we’d done & learned that day, given birth to Story. And certainly Story — especially as enacted in ritual and cultural forms — has shaped what it is to be human.

And then technology — pottery, metal, and more — from a simple flame warming a family to engines warming the entire planet and setting it alight.

And, of course, Trickster has been involved all along!

This week Trickster has been especially active throughout my days — creating havoc as only Trickster can — so the post I’d hoped to share with you will have to wait until next Friday. Instead, I offer you a beautiful & thought-provoking musing I encountered in my explorations this week: Fire in the mind: changing understandings of fire in Western civilization by Stephen J. Pyne . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4874404/

Abstract – For most of human history, fire has been a pervasive presence in human life, and so also in human thought. This essay examines the ways in which fire has functioned intellectually in Western civilization as mythology, as religion, as natural philosophy and as modern science. The great phase change occurred with the development of industrial combustion; fire faded from quotidian life, which also removed it from the world of informing ideas. Beginning with the discovery of oxygen, fire as an organizing concept fragmented into various subdisciplines of natural science and forestry. The Anthropocene, however, may revive the intellectual role of fire as an informing idea or at least a narrative conceit.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts about & your relationship with fire. Please put any you’d like to share in the comment section.

Ehsan Habashi

Notes on Trying to Trap Trickster

Well, this past week Trickster has been laughing and whooping and generally congratulating himself on his wit — and I must admit, I’ve been chuckling & shaking my head, too. In last week’s post, I wanted to let Coyote’s tracks run free at the end of the post as a final comment on Wildness, but the WordPress format kept them in a box. Finally, a dear one hacked the code and, he said, got rid of the box. However, when I checked later on my computer, the confining box was still there. So I sighed, resigned myself to WP’s restriction, and added some comments about boxes & tracks. …. Then, folks began reporting that they hadn’t seen the box I’d mentioned. Well, I thought, it must have been that WordPress knows my computer & makes the box show up on it even when I bypass my personal link with them & reach my posts directly through the internet. So Friday afternoon, I tried viewing the post through my phone (number unknown to WP) — and the darn box was still there hedging in the tracks for me even on a different device! Hmmmm…. Maybe Trickster is trying to make a point, to deliver a personal message to me. Maybe I need to be less resigned to those in power, to get out of my own box & be wilder…?

To make things funnier for me, last week I began rummaging through a box of old papers & notes, dating from ca. 20 years ago. At that point in my life, Trickster had already set up a stubborn presence in my mind and my heart. I was doing a lot of reading about him — tales from around the world, anthropology, psychology. But, although I’d been an anthropology major in college, 35 years had elapsed since graduation and I needed someone to introduce me to newer anthropological sources & concepts, someone to help me focus, someone with whom to share discoveries and bounce around ideas. Dr. Claudia Chang, professor of Anthropology at Sweet Briar College, kindly agreed to take me on as a “non-matriculating, auditing student” for an Independent Study class. [Thank you, Claudia! I was and still am so grateful.] Apparently, the college required a topic/name for our work together and, according to the heading on the proposed bibliography I just unearthed, I chose “Trying to Trap the Trickster.” When I found that piece of paper, I just had to smile . One of the things I have learned (and am still learning) is that “trapping” Trickster is, at best, a mirage. Even back then, I should have recognized that I was the one being trapped!

So, trapped as I am in Trickster’s world, it seemed best to pay attention to his message this week & leap outside of my box and make some tracks of my own!

Over the years, I have thought & written a lot about Words as Tracks, but this week my wildest tracks fled the page and became fiber. The half-woven mask that had been waiting far too long on my loom, told me I must finish her, must let her stop being an idea & become real. Almost as soon as she was off the loom and she & I were beginning the sacred work of shifting her from flat to shaped, of exploring her depths, I knew her name was Thalassa. OK, I thought, I know that Thalassa means “sea” and this creation is woven of ocean colors. It makes sense.

Then I looked more deeply into the name.

I wasn’t able to find much firm information. [How fitting for a sea goddess, the watery essence, the ever-changing!] Wikipedia says “In Greek mythology, Thalassa (/θəˈlæsə/; Greek: Θάλασσα, translit. Thálassa, lit. “sea”) was the primeval spirit of the sea, whose name may be of Pre-Greek origin.” The Greeks gave her a human form and fit her into their pantheon, giving her parents, siblings, offspring — all of which vary from one source to the next, probably changing over time. She seems to have been of lasting interest. In the 5th century CE, a Roman mosaic depicts her wearing crab claws like horns, and holding an oar in one hand and a porpoise in the other — perhaps an intermediary between human and oceanic worlds? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalassa#/media/File:Hatay_thalassa.jpg

But it is her earliest role as the actual embodiment of the waters, the sea itself — specifically the Mediterranean — that intrigues me. I wish I could know her earliest stories, but these were oral tales & though spoken words certainly leave tracks, they are often difficult to discern, well hidden, faded, lost to us. …. In any case, it is Thalassa’s primeval aspect that calls me & that has turned the making of this mask into an offering of gratitude for a particular gift I received from the Mediterranean Sea 50 years ago.

It has been fun to find that as Thalassa comes into being, long-forgotten yarns & fibers have started pouring out of boxes and drawers, offering themselves as part of the feast of colors & textures, part of the sea of being & becoming. I find myself immersed in a wild process of discovery & learning and am eager to experience what emerges!

Thalassa in process, becoming herself

T.S. Eliot, from “Dry Salvages” in Four Quartets:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river 
Is a strong brown god--sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree...

  The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many
     voices,
Many gods and many voices.
                          The salt is on the briar rose,
The fog is in the fir trees.  ....

Savage Grace, Trickster Spirit

On Tuesday morning, I began to jot down thoughts for this week’s post. And then………. On Tuesday afternoon, I began to read Savage Grace by Jay Griffiths and was swept clear out of my chair and into the wild & wonderful Wind of Being.

The notes I’d made will have to wait. I must share with you some of Griffiths’ opening pages — words that are alive, a vision that conjures up a sense of Trickster Spirit:

Absolute Truancy. I felt its urgent demand in the blood. I could hear its call. Its whistling disturbed me by day and its howl woke me in the night. I heard the drum of the sun. Every path was a calling cadence, the flight of every bird a beckoning, the colour of ice an invitation: come. The forest was a fiddler, wickedly good, eyes intense and shining with a fast dance. Every leaf in every breeze was a toe, tapping out the same rhythm, and every mountain top lifting out of cloud intrigued my mind, for the wind at the peaks was the flautist, licking his lips, dangerously mesmerizing me with the inaudible melodies which I strained to hear, my ears yearning for the horizon of sound. This was the calling, the vehement, irresistible demand of the feral angel–take flight. All that is wild is winged –life, mind and language– and knows the feel of air in soaring flight. ….

I was looking for the will of the wild. I was looking for how that will expressed itself in elemental vitality, in savage grace. Wildness is resolute for life: it cannot be otherwise for it will die in captivity. It is elemental: pure freedom, pure passion, pure hunger. It is its own manifesto. ….

I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately –how resonantly– I belonged there. We are charged with this. All of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we are domesticated, but we are not. …..

Jay Griffiths, Savage Grace (Berkeley CA: Counterpoint, 2015) pp. 1-2.

Although Jay Griffiths is here describing her personal longings, her words definitely conjure up the universal Trickster Spirit. The typical American use of the word “Trickster” — meaning some kind of con-man seeking money and power or a mere prankster — has not only missed the point but has attempted to limit that which by nature is limitless, to reduce Trickster into something comprehensible to our culture’s everyday sensibilities. Of course Trickster, in whatever culture he happens to be residing, will try to cheat others for personal gain & to pull pranks just for the hell of it. But that is only one of his many facets, not his total nature. Above all, Trickster Spirit is wildness, possibility, and creativity — the Life essence –personified.

Jay Griffiths grew up in Britain but her experience (poignantly described further in detail on p.5) is typical of many in the Western consumer-capitalist/Enlightenment cultures.

I know this chloroform world, she writes, where human nature is well-schooled, tamed from childhood on, where the radiators are permanently on mild and the windows are permanently closed…..

Trickster Spirit moves freely in the Larger-Than-Human World and, because (whether we acknowledge it or not) we dwell within & are an integral part of that larger world, Trickster even transgresses the oh-so-well-defended walls of our human cultures, our received ideas, our “chloroform world.” Trickster is Wild.

Lewis Hyde — in his delightful, must-read book Trickster Makes This Worldstates :

In short, trickster is a boundary-crosser. Every group has its edge, its sense of in and out, and trickster is always there, at the gates of the city and the gates of life, making sure there is commerce. He also attends the internal boundaries by which groups articulate their social life. We constantly distinguish — right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead — and in every case trickster will cross the line and confuse the distinction. …. Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox. …. [T]he best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found — sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.

If you look at the bottom of this post, you will see coyote tracks meandering inside a frame, a box. Apparently, WordPress has decreed that every image must be so contained & I have not yet found a way to undermine this wall. But note that coyote (that old trickster) has left vibrant black marks, while the border, the boundary, the edge, the separating line is a pale ghostly gray. Which feels more real? Which is wilder? Which one enlivens you?

ROOTS

by Lucille Clifton

call it our craziness even,
call it anything.
it is the life thing in us
that will not let us die.
even in death’s hand
we fold the fingers up
and call them greens and
grow on them,
we hum them and make music.
call it our wildness then,
we are lost from the field
of flowers, we become
a field of flowers.
call it our craziness
our wildness
call it our roots,
it is the light in us
it is the light of us
it is the light, call it
whatever you have to,
call it anything.


~~ May Poem of the Month from gratefulness.org : From How to Carry Water: Selected Poems

Learning to Converse

“In the Amazon, people refer to the forest as a speaking world, relating, talking, communicating. People can be inter-intelligent with their lands; the languages being formed from the land, and then people in turn singing up their land. The roots of “intelligent” are inter and legere which means both “read” and “gather”—people could gather plants and words from their lands. To gather, of course, itself means both “to collect” (for example, fruits) and “to understand.” So we gather.”
….
“All languages have long aspired to echo the wild world which gave them growth…. According to phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, language ‘is the very voice of the trees, the waves, and the forests.'”

—Jay Griffiths, Savage Grace: A Journey in Wildness

From 2014-2016, I participated in the Inner Life of the Child in Nature program at the Center for Education, Imagination, and the Natural World in Greensboro, NC. https://www.beholdnature.org/ As part of our practice, we each focused on deep, sacred listening to the forest and its beings. Listening is perhaps the most fundamentally receptive — one might say, passive — of the senses. How different it is from our restlessly darting staring seaching gaze, from our touching grasping manipulating hands.

I had been listening to the larger-than-human world since early childhood, so I was comfortable with my silence. Still, as I practiced with more clarity and intention, I learned to “listen” more and more closely with my whole self — not only with my ears, but also with my eyes and nose, skin and heart — eager to hear what the natural world would volunteer to say when neither questionsed directly nor bullied into relinquishing its secrets. Simply listening alertly, respectfully, lovingly — as at the feet of a wise elder — seemed appropriate kfor an adult of our all too often arrogant and domineering culture.

Little by little, I began to understand that the beings of the forest were not only speaking to me, but listening to me as well. I knew, of course, that my animal kin — birds, deer, rabbits, coyote, bear — were aware of and responding, often unseen, to my presence. But the trees too were listening to me, waiting. And after a time, I became aware of some deeper, more comprehensive listening taking place. It was the Forest herself, waiting for me to speak.

I had been chatting with trees, frogs, stones and other beings all my life. But it seemed that now something more was being asked of me. I remembered the theologian Nelle Morton’s wonderful phrase “hearing one another into speech.” I felt that I was asked to accept my full role in the conversation. I was being “heard into speech.”

To be a full participant in this Universe, I must bring not only my listening heart but also my unique voice. I must engage in the conversation of the cosmos, neither dominating nor withholding… That is what it means to be a member of what Thomas Berry calls “a communion of subjects.” It is unmediated intimacy: that which I behold also beholds me, that which I come to know also knows me; that which I hear also hears me; that which I encourage to speak also encourages me to speak.

The forest says “Speak.”
What shall I speak?

Rooted in and spun out of mystery,
we all belong to each other.
What shall I speak but gratitude?
What shall I sing but praise?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Sound: a body’s way of making itself known.
Silence: a way of knowing.”

— Diana Khoi Nguyen

Conversing with Forest, Becoming Tree — weaving & felting; wool, silk