Salmon Boy

Transformation Salmon” mask by Kwakwaka‘wakw artist Wayne Alfred (shown in open position) from
Down from the Shimmering Sky: Masks of the NorthWest Coast, by Robert Mcnair, Robert Joseph, and Bruce Grenville

In his extraordinary book Being Salmon, Being Human: Encountering the Wild in Us and Us in the Wild, Martin Lee Mueller asks:

“How can we begin to think (as well as intuit, feel, and sense) salmon not as discreet ontological units, but as radically relational creatures: intelligent beings who engage creatively, cunningly, and fluidly in the metamorphic depth of the real? How can we alert our awareness more capably to an embodied sentience so unlike our own, one attuned to the Earth’s magnetic fields, to the oceans’ somatic soundworld, to the vaulted movements of celestial bodies, to drifting weightlessly in their waterworld as if gravity did not exist?”

Here, as a philosopher, Mueller seems to emphasize “thinking.” I believe — and I believe he does too — that even “scientific thinking” is intertwined with and nourished by intuition, feelings, and senses. So, when I hear these questions, I say that Art & Story are good places to start. These are the ways that humans have connected with the larger-than-human world since our earliest beginnings.

The beautiful wooden mask shown above is a good example. Among the indigenous peoples on the northwest coast of Turtle Island/ North America, these masks are not mere decorations or disguises. The masks are sacred objects imbued with active spirit and deep meaning, treated with reverence at all times. When a mask is danced, the Spirit of the mask is present and active.

In the words of Kwakwaka‘wakw Chief, writer, & curator Robert Joseph (Down from the Shimmering Sky):

“The masks of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast are powerful objects that assist us in defining our place in the cosmos. In a world of endless change and complexity, masks offer a continuum for Native people to acknowledge our connection with the universe. …. Masks have an important and significant place in our evolution. Every mask is quintessential to our desire to embrace wholeness, balance and harmony. In a simple and fundamental act of faith we acknowledge and reaffirm our union through song and dance, ceremony and ritual.”

Chief Robert Joseph began dancing the masks as a boy. He speaks of moment the mask is donned:

“It is a moment when all the world is somewhere else. I am totally and completely alone. My universe is the mold of the mask over my face. I am the mask. I am the bird. I am the animal. I am the fish. I am the spirit. I visualize my dance. I ponder every move. I transcend into the being of the mask.”

Most of the masks are carved from one piece of cedar (or, occasionally, maple). The transformation masks like the one above are different, are hinged. Closed they show one being (here a salmon). But when the dancer opens the mask, another being is revealed — a beautiful assertion of the Oneness of all Being….

I do not know the precise meaning to the powerful mask in this photo, but it reminds me of a story that is told — in many variations — by many of the peoples of the NW coast. I have heard and read quite a few different tellings. This is my telling for this moment, offered with humble gratitude to the Old Ones whose wisdom drew this story from their land & its beings, and to all the generations of storytellers who opened their hearts to this story & offered their voices to keep it alive. I don’t know if this exactly how it happened, but I know that it is true.

*******

SALMON BOY

There was a boy who was loved by his parents. They gave him the best place to sleep by the fire & a precious copper collar to adorn his neck. When it was time to eat, they always gave him the biggest piece of meat.

Now there came a time of the year when the stores of dried salmon were almost gone. “I am hungry,” the boy cried. “I am hungry!” His mother gave him a small piece of the remaining salmon. He stamped his foot. “No!” he said angrily. “No! It is not enough!” And he threw the piece of salmon into the bushes & stomped down to the river to play.

That boy didn’t think about what he had done, but the Salmon People knew and they were angry.

The boy threw sticks into the river & watched them float swiftly away, One stick did not float. He stepped right up to the edge of the riverbank and looked down to see if he could find his stick in the deep water. Something was there. Something was moving. He saw a silver gleam. He leaned further and further forward. That boy fell into the water and went down, down, down.

At first, he was afraid. But after awhile it seems as if he were in a canoe being carried into the depths of the water. When the canoe stopped, the boy stepped out and looked around. He was in a village not unlike his own — with small lodges & the Great Longhouse with its totem pole and carefully carved doors. And the village was filled with people.

These were the Salmon People. They took the boy in and fed him. They were kind to him and taught him their ways. After a time had passed, the Salmon Chief called all the village into the Great Longhouse. There as drumming and sacred dancing, and as the boy watched his eyes grew round. Then the Council of Elders said, “We are all ready for the journey. Now is the time.”

That boy felt how round his eyes were. He felt himself begin to change. His body glistened with silvery scales and his tail was strong. He was flying through the water with his friends, heading downstream.

And then the water, too, changed. It was salty, it was wide, it pulled at his body in ways different from the river. That boy slapped his tail and leapt high. He was filled with life!

Years passed. That boy journeyed far. Sometimes his friends were close and sometimes he was alone. That boy ate and ate. He become a young man. He grew and grew, fat and strong, until one day he felt himself turning towards home. Something was calling the Salmon People & they swam and swam until they reached their river. Upstream they swam, even when the current tried to push them back to the sea. Up they swam, leaping over rocks & rapids. Oh, they were fearless, fierce, and strong!

At last that boy found himself in the river beside his parents’ village. One evening he began to leap out of the water. He leapt high, and higher still. And his mother saw him and called her husband to see the great fish.

And his father speared him.

Quickly his mother brought out her knife to cut the fish open. But suddenly she stopped. She saw the copper collar around his neck. “This is our son!” she cried. “This is our son!”

They carried the fish to their lodge and wrapped him in a blanket. With great love, they laid him on the best furs to rest. During the night he felt himself changing. In the morning, when he arose, he stepped out of his fish-skin.

His mother heard something and turned from her cooking. With a great cry, she ran to him and hugged him to her heart. And he put his arms around his mother and knew he was home.

All the village gathered to hear his tales of the Salmon People and their village. He told of his adventures in the great salt water with its plentiful food & plentiful dangers. He told of their fearless journey back up the river. He taught his people the ways of the salmon and how they must welcome the salmon’s return each year with drums & prayer & ceremony. He taught them that the salmon give themselves as gifts to his people. He taught that they must use every part of the salmon they can and they must place the bones & the leavings back in the river with great reverence. In this way the salmon may be reborn & come again.

And the people named him Salmon Boy.

Oh, as the years passed, Salmon Boy became a great teacher and shaman and healer…. And so he is remembered to this day. And so Salmon Boy is reborn through the telling of his story, that he might teach us what we need to learn.

*******

artist unknown

*******

I’ll leave you with Martin Lee Muellers’ beautiful & insightful “scientific” description or definition of Salmon (Being Salmon, Being Human:

“A salmon is a sensing, sensitive being making conscious choices inside a sensuous aquatic world she coinhabits with other sentient beings. She is also the unique smell of that one estuary, that place where she once passed from her freshwater youth into saltwater adulthood. She is the magnetic field that spans from pole to pole and sends waves of recognition through her sensing body on the long journey back home. She is the anticipation of riverside humans who hungrily await her return from the ocean. She is the pace at which riverside Sitka spruce metabolizes icy skin into wooden bark, and the way in which grizzly bear metabolizes her into hair and fat that will sustain grizzly through another cold season. She is the river’s topography, its resistance, its moods. She is all that.

To define the creature away from her web of relations, and the web of relations away from the creature, is to open the way to exploiting this creature, to diminishing her, violating her, abusing her, denying her. We are who we are in relation to others. Salmon are who they are in relation to tress, rocks, ravens, rivers.”

*******

Let's stop and think.  
Who, I wonder, are we?


The Coming of the Salmon

We have heard the stories of how trickster Raven stole Light from Old Man Undersea [3/19/2021] and stole Fresh Water from the Beaver People [10/15/2021]. Greedy Raven was planning to keep the Light and the Water all for himself but, in his haste, spilled them, accidentally making Light and Fresh Water available for all the People. In the story of The Coming of the Salmon, Raven seems to manifest a more benevolent approach to the sharing of resources.

I give thanks to the Haida people whose wisdom gave birth to this story. I give thanks to all the storytellers before me — from the long ago days when it happened until now — who opened their hearts and offered their voices to keep this story alive. This is my telling for this day. I don’t know if this is exactly how it happened but I know that it is true.

*******

It began, as so many things begin, with a dream. It began when the Chief’s young daughter lay dreaming of a great and beautiful fish. He was almost as long as she was tall and his scales glistened brightly. He was silver as moonlight and his back was speckled with tiny black dots as black as the night sky above her as she slept. Oh, this fish was strong! He leapt over rocks and up the rapids that churned the river. Oh, how the Chief’s little daughter loved that fish!

When morning came, the little girl ran to her father and told him of the great fish she had seen in her dream. “Father,” she said, “please bring me this fish.” But the Chief shook his head. “I am sorry, my dear daughter, but I have never seen such a fish.” And the Chief’s daughter began to cry.

The Chief asked in the Village, but no one had ever seen such a fish. And his daughter cried, and she cried, and she cried, for she longed to see that beautiful fish once more. Oh, how she cried!

At last, the Chief gathered all the elders, the wisest ones in the Village, but they all shook their heads. No one had ever seen such a great silvery fish who could leap and leap over the rocky rapids on his way upstream.

At last, the Oldest Man in the Village spoke up. “Raven lives in the cedars just over the hill. Often I bring him tidbits to eat and he speaks to me in a friendly way. Raven flies over all the world. Let me go ask Raven if he has seen such a fish on his journeys.”

The Chief and all the elders looked each other and nodded their heads. At last the Chief said, “It is agreed. Each of us will send with you a fish or a meaty bone as a gift to wise Raven.”

Soon the basket of the Oldest Man was filled, and he set off through the forest and up the hill, carrying that heavy basket. At last he approached the tall cedar trees where Raven liked to sit and look at the world. Raven smelled the beautiful fragrance of fish & meat. He flew down to sit beside the Oldest Man and croaked his greeting.

“Wise Raven,” said the Oldest Man. “I come to you bringing gifts from all the Villagers.” He set down the basket, and Raven began to feast. Raven ate & ate and when he raised his head from the basket, that basket was as empty and clean as if it had just come fresh from the basket-maker’s hands.

Raven cocked his head & looked at the Oldest Man and — since Raven is always curious — there was a question in Raven’s bright eye. “Why have you come?” he croaked.

Then the Oldest Man told Raven of the Chief’s little daughter & how she had dreamed a great silvery fish that leapt upstream like a dancer. He told of how she longed for that fish. “But none of us have ever seen such a fish,” he said. “And so she cries & cries. She cannot eat. She cannot sleep.”

Raven nodded his shining black head & spoke. “I know such a fish,” he croaked. “I will come with you & speak to the Council.” And so he did.

When all the Council had gathered in the Village, Raven spoke. “I know the tribe of whom the little girl dreamed. They travel far, but just now they have gathered to enter a river on the other side of this inlet. You have been generous to me, but I shall bring an even greater gift to you.” And off Raven flew.

Raven flew fast, and soon he returned, carrying a huge silvery fish. He gave it ceremoniously to the Chief’s daughter. “This,” Raven croaked, “is the fish you long for.” And the Chief’s daughter opened her eyes, red with weeping, and beheld the fish. She smiled. She laughed. She reached out her hand to stroked the gleaming silver scales. She offered her thanks to wise Raven.

Then Raven explained, “I have brought you the son of the Chief of the Salmon People. They saw me take him & watched to see which way I flew. The Salmon will come here to get back the Chief’s son. If you treat him with honor, they will enter a pact with you & return every year to hear your drumming & your songs of praise for them.”

Quickly the Villagers filled the biggest cedar canoe with seawater & put the great salmon in to swim freely. And as he swam, the Chief’s daughter sang to him — songs of love & praise, honoring his strength & beauty.

Soon the Salmon tribe swam into sight, lashing their strong tails & leaping up to show off their silvery beauty. The Chief of the Salmon spoke. “Give me my son.” And the Villagers placed his son back in the sea with his own people.

After the Salmon Chief’s son had told his father of how he was cared for and honored, after he had told his father how the little girl had shown her love for him with her songs, the Salmon Chief spoke to the village people saying, “Because you have cared for & honored my son, our people will return each year to feed you. But you must remember to honor us as well with your songs & prayers. And when we have given you good food to eat, you must place our bones back in the river so we can return again.”

And so it has been since that day. Each year the people of the Village welcome the Salmons’ return with songs & prayers. And — after they have feasted & have dried just enough fish to feed themselves during the hard times of the year — the people must gather the bones of the Salmon and, with words of thanksgiving, return them to their home in the river. And so the Salmon & the Villagers have cared for each other as the seasons & the years turn and turn.

*******

With gratitude to the Salmon and to Raven and to all the Rivers of the world, I have been weaving. The Keeper of Rivers is beginning to reveal her shape & I have been gathering fibers to begin dreaming the River.

Strange colors in this photo! The “black” fibers are deep teal & it’s laid out on a pale gray worktable, not an orange one!

SONG FOR THE SALMON
                                                     ~~~ by David Whyte

For too many days now I have not written of the sea,

nor the rivers, nor the shifting currents
we find between the islands.

For too many nights now I have not imagined the salmon
threading the dark streams of reflected stars,
nor have I dreamt of his longing
nor the lithe swing of his tail toward dawn.

I have not given myself to the depth to which he goes,
to the cargoes of crystal water, cold with salt,
nor the enormous plains of ocean swaying beneath the moon.

I have not felt the lifted arms of the ocean
opening its white hands on the seashore,
nor the salted wind, whole and healthy
filling the chest with living air.

I have not heard those waves
fallen out of heaven onto earth,
nor the tumult of sound and the satisfaction
of a thousand miles of ocean
giving up its strength on the sand.

But now I have spoken of that great sea,
the ocean of longing shifts through me,
the blessed inner star of navigation
moves in the dark sky above
and I am ready like the young salmon
to leave his river, blessed with hunger
for a great journey on the drawing tide.

Xenotopia: – “an uncanny or unsettling landscape; an ‘out-of-place place’

~~~ as defined by Robert Macfarlane, with an illustration ~~~

I’d planned this week to share some of the salmon myths from around the world, a perfect follow-up to last week’s post. But this has been a turbulent week & I find myself distracted.

…The continuing wars & crises all around the world & the rips in the very fabric of Life on Earth….. Here in the U.S. I am still reeling from the Supreme Court’s decisions to expand so-called gun “rights,” to overturn Roe v. Wade, and now to limit environmental protections. I was shaken this week to hear Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) proclaim that “The church is supposed to direct the government.” Although it confirmed what I’d expected, I was still stunned by Tuesday’s Jan. 6 hearing in which Cassidy Hutchinson bravely & explicitly described how the explosive, tantrum-prone former-president and his collaborators plotted to overthrow our government & destroy any attempts at democracy — a plot that is still alive and well in many state legislatures and in the extremist views of many of our citizens. And I am grieving the deaths of people seeking a safe life — this week more than 50 human beings killed, left locked in the over-heated back of a semi in Texas.

Add a couple of slightly stressful appointments this week and I have ended up feeling like Dorothy dropped into Oz, like Alice stepping through the looking glass & falling down the rabbit hole. I wonder where I have landed.

I am taking off a couple days to ground myself and to try to figure out where I am. I am spending time and finding solace with animals and garden and trees.

                      LOST

"Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
 Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
 And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
 Must ask permission to know it and be known.
 The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
 I have made this place around you.
 If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
 No two trees are the same to Raven.
 No two branches are the same to Wren.
 If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
 You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
 Where you are. You must let it find you."

                                                                 ~~~ David Wagoner

Seeking Sanctuary

Dreaming of Salmon at Summer Solstice

I’ve been thinking about Water these last weeks. But this past Tuesday was the Solstice. In Celtic traditions, the Summer Solstice is — like Samhain (our Halloween) in late autumn — a Fire festival associated with the lighting of great bonfires and the opening of thin places between worlds. Still I kept musing & wondering about Water. Then I found a story of the relationship between these two Elements as told by mythologist Michael Meade and quoted in Terri Windling’s blog https://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2021/08/water-wild-and-sacred.html:

“Of the elements (which some people count as four, and others count as five), water is the element for reconciliation. Water is the element of flow. When water goes missing, flow goes missing. The ancient Irish used to say that there are two suns in the world. One you see rise in the morning. The other is very deep in the earth, and it’s called the black sun or inner sun. It’s a hot fire in there; no one knows how hot. The earth is roughly seventy per cent water because of that hidden sun inside. When the water goes down, the earth heats up too much – part of the global warming that’s happening everywhere. It happens inside people also, because people are like the earth. People are seventy per cent water like the earth, and people have a hidden sun – or else we wouldn’t be ninety-six degrees when its forty degrees outside. Everyone in the world is burning, and the water in the body keeps that burning from becoming a fever. What happens literally also happens emotionally and spiritually, so when people forget how to carry water and how to use water to reconcile, you get an increasing amount of heated conflict, as we’re seeing around the world today.”

So — it is, as always, a matter of Balance. I was able to celebrate both Fire & Water at the Summer Solstice.

*******

I was born in the U.S. Midwest & have visited but never lived on the NW coast of North America. My brother and two women I have known since our earliest childhoods in Iowa have long lived there. My niece & nephew were born there and stayed. My sister has lived in Oregon & is now a short ways south, near majestic (and perhaps mythical) Mount Shasta. And I often find my heart drawn to the great forests, beautiful island-studded coastline, and native arts & myths of British Columbia — the home of Raven and Salmon, who people my dreams.

Somehow, Raven and Salmon have both lodged more and more firmly in my heart over the years. I have, hanging in my studio, a set of prayer flags I made many years ago in a workshop with the eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill. We were given 3 prompts for the flags:

The first is the picture of my inner self, who I really am.

The second is that which hinders me from manifesting my true self.

The third is a symbol of what it would feel like to come home to my self — and it surprised me by being a Salmon.

I recently came across a poem, written even further back, that intertwined Salmon & Language (and is used to close today’s post). While looking for that poem today, I came across another old poem of mine that I’d quite forgotten:

SALMON SINGS OF HER RETURN

Suddenly I felt a change, a shift
in the wide dark salt, 
narrowing my world from 
flash of chase and feast to
strict path clenched
by desire more ravenous for
movement than for flesh.

No longer consuming but
consumed by some austere 
pulse, my every sense alert to
the pulling and tugging steering me
through vast and briny plain until

at last — familiar somehow —
the faintest of traces in the tide, then
a new sweetness surging,
insisting, freshening.
A beautiful current presses my snout 
and I answer with thrust and 
plunge of tail, spine against 
the spate, channeled, bound, 

devoured now from within as
my skin reddens, flesh flames. 

Let me swim higher up, deeper in. 
Let me leap past rock, talon, teeth. 
Let me dig nests in gravelly birthing bed. 
Let me pour out from my belly 
	ten thousand fiery suns.

Only then 

Let my body be given to raven, bear, river silt. 
Let ocean feed mountain.
Let my next body be in this place  
	a tree --
        rising, rooted, and green.
 Let my roots inhale water to 
 breathe out 
 once more into this
 circling and radiant world.

	                             ---  MCK

This week I’ve been weaving the doll I mentioned last time — curious to see what she would teach me about the colors I’d gathered and about myself. For such a small piece of weaving, I’ve been amazed and amused by how many missteps, lessons, and stories she contains!

When I took her off the loom, I saw not only the long warp ends but also the many many weft ends streaming off her body.

As I sewed in the ends, I found myself collecting even the smallest pieces of yarn I cut off, thinking “Not a drop should be wasted!” She is now filled, along with a water-worn stone & 5 seashells, with these bits of yarn — “drops of Water” from the weaving of her body.

As soon as I saw her, I knew what offering her arms would hold. Two or three years ago, I wove an amulet bag & placed inside it a long-treasured ceramic salmon button to which I had added her golden roe being laid in the river. Now, that salmon has swum into the arms of my prayer.

She is a Prayer for Earth's Waters & for the Salmon,
messengers between sea and stream, saltwater and fresh

PRAYER

What is prayer but the
unbarring of the heart,
the freeing of its rivers for return to the sea.

Sometimes it is not enough to depend on seepage through the old hidden cracks.
Sometimes it is not enough to let the concrete spillways do their job.
Sometimes it is not enough to open the floodgates.
Sometimes you must turn off turbines, abandon irrigation ditches, just
	dismantle the whole damned thing.

Let the rivers run free:
rainfall, snowmelt, even the ancient glacial ice from distant peaks.
Flood, drought, the ups and downs of season upon season, heading
always home.

And after a long, long time, the sweet water may
call back the salmon to spawn again in the furthest pools.                                                                                
Let them come in silvery leadings, insistently struggling
upriver against all odds to the place they know is their own.

Words are salmon, prayers returning.
And if they are as certain to die in the safe pool of your page
As salmon are to die in the riverine shallows, remember the
fertile eggs they leave—minute, perhaps unnoticed, yet desiring life.
Then, too, their flesh is
in any case
sweet.
 
                                                                      - - - MCK

Living Into the Mystery

These days, we seem to have been set adrift by all the violence of the environmental, political, cultural turmoil in which we are living. Even the regular circling of the seasons — which has always been a way for me to ground myself — has been changing. Last year, here in central North Carolina, the weather at Winter Solstice was still so mild it felt like late October. Some daffodils and even a few cherry trees bloomed in January and February. This spring, even before the end of May, we have experienced high temperatures that I would normally associate with late July or August. And if I find this disorienting, it can only be more so for the plants and the animals.

In the midst of all this, It is easy to despair, to self-isolate, to hide from the chaos. “What next?” seems to be the lament of the day.

Yesterday, by delightful serendipity, I discovered an excellent article in Emergence Magazine, by the writer, wilderness teacher, mythologist & storyteller Martin Shaw.

It is filled with the reminders I needed just then to help me out of the all-too-easy swamp of dismay and gloom & back onto the path, into the play of Life.

This very rich and, for me, nourishing essay is filled with examples from folktale and myth & concludes by offering four areas in which we may, if we choose, begin the Work of navigating Mystery. You can read — or listen to Shaw read — his full essay at https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/navigating-the-mysteries/ . Here I offer a some excerpts [lengthier than I’d expected] that speak, I think, to the heart of his message.

Illustration by moonassi

Excerpts from “Navigating the Mysteries”

by Martin Shaw

The correct response to uncertainty is mythmaking. It always was. Not punditry, allegory, or mandate, but mythmaking. The creation of stories. We are tuned to do so, right down to our bones. The bewilderment, vivacity, and downright slog of life requires it. And such emerging art forms are not to cure or even resolve uncertainty but to deepen into it. There’s no solving uncertainty. Mythmaking is an imaginative labor not a frantic attempt to shift the mood to steadier ground. There isn’t any.

But—a major but—maybe there’s useful and un-useful uncertainty. The un-useful is the skittish, fatiguing dimension. The surface of the condition. The useful is the invitation to depth that myth always offers. Because if there’s uncertainty, then we are no longer sure quite what’s the right way to behave. And there’s potential in that, an openness to new forms. We are susceptible to what I call sacred transgression. Not straight-up theft but a recalibrating of taboo to further the making of culture. [sounds to me like the Trickster spirit!]

…..

What if we reframed “living with uncertainty” to “navigating mystery”? There’s more energy in that phrase. The hum of imaginative voltage. And is our life not a mystery school, a seat of earthy instruction?

There are few tales worth remembering that don’t have uncertainty woven into them. Without uncertainty we have mission statements not myth. We have polemic not poetry, sign not symbol. There’s no depth when we are already floating above true human experience. And true human experience has always involved ambiguity, paradox, and eventually the need for sheer pluck. Uncertainty doesn’t feel sexy, I admit. It can derail confidence, make us neurotic, doubt ourselves. But mythic intelligence suggests we have to negotiate such terrain for a story of worth to surround us. I don’t say this lightly; it has real testing attached.

…..

But to navigate mystery is not the same thing as living with uncertainty. It doesn’t contain the hallmarks of manic overconfidence or gnawing anxiety. It’s the blue feather in the magpie’s tale [sic]. Hard to glimpse without attention. There’s no franchise or hashtag attached. Navigating mystery humbles us, reminds us with every step that we don’t know everything, are not, in fact, the masters of all.

As humans we’ve long been forged on the anvil of the mysteries: Why are we here? Why do we die? What is love? We are tuned like a cello to vibrate with such questions. What is entirely new is the amount of information we are receiving from all over the planet. So we don’t just receive stress on a localized, human level, we mainline it from a huge, abstract, conceptual perspective. Perpetual availability to both creates a nervous wreck.

The old stories say, enough; that one day we have to walk our questions, our yearnings, our longings. We have to set out into those mysteries, even with the uncertainty. Especially with the uncertainty. Make it magnificent. We take the adventure. Not naively but knowing this is what a grown-up does. We embark. Let your children see you do it. Set sail, take the wing, commit to the stomp. Evoke a playful boldness that makes even angels swoon. There’s likely something tremendous waiting.

…..

I haven’t got a damn thing to say about living on Mars with Elon Musk. The essential ingredients of mythmaking are down here on our tangly planet, species whispering and muttering about each other. Really good gossip across species becomes a story and eventually a myth. So what are the stories that will come from the mysteries of our present moment?

[Two years ago, Martin Shaw spent 101 days visiting a local forest — “primarily to listen.”] I have become more eccentric since my time in the forest, clearer and occasionally kinder. Life doesn’t feel certain, but it feels succulent. Life doesn’t feel assured, but it feels vivacious.

It doesn’t feel safe, but it feels pregnant with possibility. And, like every human before me, I’m going to have to make my peace with that arrangement. To repeat, it was always like this.

*******

The creative act of making something new always brings us face to face with uncertainty: What will happen if I plant these seeds in this part of my garden? What will happen if I change all the herbs and spices in this recipe? What will happen if I add a diagonal line to this design? Or –for fussbudgets like me — What will happen to the meaning and clarity of this sentence if I take out the comma?

A month or so ago, while I was just starting to grapple with the weaving and felting of “Transitions” [documented in earlier posts & shown in last week’s blog], I assembled this assortment of fibers & yarns from my stash and — having a clear idea, I thought, of how I would work with them — I put them in a bag to be considered after I’d finished my current project.

The “finishing” of Transitions turned into a longer — and more interesting — story than I’d first imagined. But finally, earlier this week, I opened the bag. I am still interested in the colors, but they seem darker than I’d remembered. In most lights, much darker than this photo! In particular, the deep teal fiber [center] I’d fallen in love with & planned to use as a major part of the felted context seemed almost black in ordinary room lighting. Fortunately, the making of “Transitions” gifted me with an ever-needed reminder that plans may (sometimes must) change, that we dwell in uncertainty & becoming. Suddenly seeing these fibers with surprised eyes was no different.

After days of staring at & occasionally rearranging the pile, I still had no idea where I would go with it. I was stuck in and disempowered by my uncertainty. The answer to this situation, I have learned, is to take action. But always there follows the potentially paralyzing question: How to begin?

I realized I could keep butting my head against my “problem” or I could enter it slantwise. As Shaw says, “Set sail, take the wing, commit to the stomp. Evoke a playful boldness that makes even angels swoon.

So — I decided to weave a doll using some of these colors to discover what they would say to each other & what they could teach me about themselves and about myself.

I am using the doll pattern taught by my teacher & mentor Susan Barrett Merrill. In her book Weaving a Life, Susan says “The doll is the symbol of the soul. It is a small spark of the greater Self. …. The doll is an imaginal form realized, and carries with it insight into the meaning and nature of our journey.

For example, my “3 Muses for the New Year” (posted 12/31/2021)

Since I have limited left-over amounts of most of the yarns I might use for the still-hypothetical mask, it took me a long time to decide which I could spare for the doll’s warp — but, finally, decide I did & warped my loom. Marking the center of a warp helps with the execution of the pattern. But it can do much more. Susan teaches us to use a red thread in the center of our warp:

Red is the color of life. The center thread is your core truth alongside which all other values lie. …. This is your own center thread.”

Because the warp becomes the hair of a mask, I have tended to mark the center in other ways. But for the doll, red feels essential. This is, after all, an exploration of myself as well as of the colors. I knew I wanted to remember — with every pass of the weft — to find my center.

The main color of the doll is the same as the deep teal in the center of the earlier photo — showing its darker side here.

As always, I’m curious about what will happen next. For me (as for Trickster), curiosity is a fundamental way of being. And — it suddenly occurs to me — without uncertainty, curiosity is meaningless. Hmmmm……

    "Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
     and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
     and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

     Let the beauty we love be what we do.
     There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

                                                                                        — Rumi

And the beat goes on….

A well-aimed jolt of electricity finally got my heart back in rhythm this week. Hooray! I’m still in recovery mode but, in a day or two, I should to be up & running (well, walking — but further).

First I want to share a picture I meant to include in “Thinking of Edges” (5/27): MOTHER MOSS: Spirit of the Small Edge-Dwellers & Boundary-Dancers Who Shape the World

*****

And at last there is this — named (at least for the moment) Transitions: Always Becoming.

*****

Finally, a story for trying times — from seed to treasured seedling growing and strong, then battered and half eaten by some critter, and now this beauty. Somehow it gives me hope, even amid all the disturbances and crises we manage to create in the world. Resilience:

It’s June!

Having been battered this past month by chronic cardiac conditions — resulting in deep fatigue & a fair amount of brain fog — I don’t have much to offer today. But the green and growing world outside does!

Life wants to live! The kale that was munched by the big old groundhog has, in spite of the unseasonable heat, grown again & the Hopi sunflowers, denuded and broken by some neighborhood critter, have valiantly sprouted new leaves and grown some more — a few are even trying to bloom!

The bumblebees are feasting in the salvia.

And the canna lilies in which hummingbirds delight are just beginning to offer their bounty.

MORE THAN ENOUGH  by Marge Piercy

"The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
 All over the sand road where we walk
 multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
 white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
 the scene drifting like colored mist.

 The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
 clumps of flower and the blackberries
 are blooming in the thickets. Season of
 joy for the bee. The green will never
 again be so green, so purely and lushly

 new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
 into the wind. Rich fresh wine
 of June, we stagger into you smeared
 with pollen, overcome as the turtle
 laying her eggs in roadside sand."

Thinking of Edges

I’ve been having trouble placing the 2 masks on the context I showed last week. Finally I’ve realized that the problem is that the masks didn’t want to be placed on the land, but wanted to emerge from the land.

I did a couple small samples to figure out how that could happen. The best way is to place, before felting, a resist under the top layer in the area where the mask will emerge. After felting, the area above the resist can be opened so the mask can go beneath the surface to rest on the separately-felted space below. Then parts of the separated surface layer can be needle-felted onto the mask so that it is an integral part of its context. In the case of my current making, the context has already been thoroughly felted — too late for that solution!

It is possible to simply cut out a mask-shaped hole, put in the mask, and needle-felt some more fibers like those in the surface layer to join the mask to its context. But that cutting of a hole seemed to violate the idea of “emergence” — and besides, in the current case, I don’t have enough of the context fiber left to do a good job of hiding the separation between mask & context.

So — for now — a pause on this piece……….

And — for future explorations/makings — some exciting new possibilities!

All this work has set me to thinking once again about “edges” and “boundaries,” about how things can be separate but also part of a whole, about Trickster the boundary-crosser, and about permeability & liminality.

I’ve thought about what the living world teaches us about Edges. The amazing diversity that exists at Edges — for example, the teeming life of intertidal zones or the cultural richness and cross-fertilization found at gatherings such as those along the Silk Road.

Fungi, lichen, and moss are all wonderful creatures of edges and transitional zones. Mosses fascinate me both with their beauty and with their special adaptions to the boundary layer between air & land. [Do read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s lovely book Gathering Moss for much, much more!]

I see this, and several similar areas, every day on one of my walks — a wonderful meditation on Edges & Emergence & the power of Community.

Tree roots pushing aside the asphalt. Lichens & mosses making homes both on the bark of that tree and on the asphalt it has broken. Together, the mosses begin to create new humus with nutrition for more forms of life. If there is no interference, the arbitrary asphalt will once again join the larger, living land.

In the Coyote story I told May 6, No Song lived at the extreme edges of his village. It was there that he met Coyote — the primordial Edge dweller, transformer, holder of liminal space — who gave him a Song. But when the newly-named Sings Wonderfully was pulled too much away from the Edges (where, for example, rituals dwell) and back into the center of cultural hustle-bustle and self-aggrandizement, Coyote took his Song away.

Edges & transitional zones can places of nourishment, growth, and inspiration.

“I think we could make a case that most of the world’s great religions, philosophies, artforms, even political systems and ideologies were initiated by marginal figures. There is a reason for that: sometimes you have to go to the edges to get some perspective on the turmoil at the heart of things. Doing so is not an abnegation of public responsibility: it is a form of it. In the old stories, people from the edges of things brought ideas and understandings from the forest back in to the kingdom which the kingdom could not generate by itself.”

— Martin Shaw, storyteller

I’ve been thinking about what Shaw’s words mean in terms of the stories and art and imagining we need now in these times of political/cultural & environmental upheaval……

…. Also wondering how often I really listen deeply to what the Earth is saying…

*******

If you’d like an exuberant reminder of how we can listen to Earth, here’s a joyful, rollicking song/chant & affirmation:

Put Your Roots Down — Thrive Choir

Weaving, Stitching, Felting, Dreaming — Loving the Connections

I spent our days in the mountains enjoying the in-gathering of place & soul and letting my old body recover from the activity, stress, and excitement of the previous weeks. Our house is under contract, but we are allowed to stay in it until we move into the Friends [Quaker] Homes continuing-care community on August 9. An odd in-between space….

Oh, and when we got home from the Blue Ridge, I found that my healthy, thriving, tall Hopi sunflower plants had been decimated — almost every leaf eaten & some of the tall stalks broken. The upper leaves were definitely too high for our resident groundhog so, at first, I thought “birds.” It may be so, but last night I dreamed it was a raccoon enjoying them, just as the raccoons on our farm enjoyed attacking the stalks & taking the corn on the day before it was just ripe enough to pick. Alas for my dreams of purple dye from the seeds…… But I do know there are raccoons in the neighborhood & I can’t help but admire their wild ways of surviving in an urban environment. Several years ago, when our previous dog kept eating all the new sunflower shoots, I learned that sunflower leaves are especially nutritious. No dye for me, but healthy raccoons! I end up smiling….. and remembering Linda Hogan‘s poem:

 The Way In

"Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
 Sometimes the way in is a song.
 But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
 and beauty.
 To enter stone, be water.
 To rise through hard earth, be plant
 desiring sunlight, believing in water.
 To enter fire, be dry.
 To enter life, be food."

*******

The engagement with my current fiber endeavor continues to be a fascinating adventure. As I have been struggling to understand how the 3 pieces (a female spirit/mask + a male spirit/mask + the land of which they are a part) could co-create/co-evolve with each other, I have had a lot of time to think about how these processes actually have happened and are still happening at all levels within Earth Community as a whole and within each of her individual elements/beings/selves. The beautiful on-going flows of energy and matter in & out & between & among….The growing, blooming, ripening, being eaten, & sprouting again in a wholly new form…. So much to contemplate. So much to love.

When I finished felting this home/context for the masks just before going to the Blue Ridge, I fell in love with it & didn’t want to put anything on it. I thought maybe I should make a different setting for the masks.

But, of course, the felted piece is not a mere “setting” and the spirit masks cry out, “We, too, are a part of this one whole — neither the felted piece nor either of the us would have come into being as we are without the other two. We are all one thing evolving together.” And I, too, am a part of this evolution — also changing and growing in many ways. I’m curious about what will happen next.

In preparation for their placement, I have finally been sewing in the loose yarn ends on the backs of the two masks. Usually sewing or weaving-in any loose ends is a straight-forward, simple activity. But because I was working only with yarns & fibers I had on hand, I found myself mixing a variety of mismatched yarns — two or three being worked together in different combinations to form the weft. So — so many ends!

I wish I’d thought to take a photo before I started. At least I can give you a glimpse of the final unfinished corner of the second mask. Imagine the whole inside of the mask as a snarl of yarns with no interest in being tidied up…. As an introvert, the dense & wild interior was very familiar — but occasionally, as with my own inner tangle, rather annoying.

I think it must have been these days of finicky work that suddenly brought to mind a wonderful poem by Pattiann Rogers that I hadn’t thought of for years. I am delighted to share it here.

By Pattiann Rogers, from her collection of poems 
Song of the World Becoming
"God Is In The Details," Says Mathematician Freeman Dyson

"This is why grandmother takes such tiny
stitches, one stitch for each dust mote
of moon on the Serengeti at night, and one half
one stitch for each salt-fetch fog
following the geometries of eelgrasses
in fields along the beach.

And this is why she changes the brief threads
in her glass needle to often--metallic bronze
for the halo around the thrasher's eye,
ruby diaphanous for the antenna tips
of the May beetle, transparent silk
for dry-rain fragrances blowing
through burr sages before rain.

She inserts her needle
through the center of each elementary
particle, as if it were a circling sequin
of blue, loops it to its orbit, sewing thus,
again and again, the reckless sapphire sea,
a whipping flag of tall summer sky.

Sometimes she takes in her hands
two slight breaths of needles at once,
needles so thin they almost burn
her fingers like splinters of light.
She crochets with them around each microscopic
void, invents, thereby, an ice tapestry
of winter on the window, creates a lace
of peeper shrillings through flooded
sweet gale, secures a blank jot of sight
in the knitting of each red flea
of zooplankton skittering mid-lake.

God's most minute exuberance is founded
in the way she sews with needles
as assertive as the sun-sharp loblolly
that she sees with her eyes closed:
in the way she knots stitches
as interlocked as the cries of veery,
peewee, black-capped chickadee and jay
that she hears with her ears stopped;
in the way she whispers to her work,
recites to her work, spooling every least
spider and air trifid, every hue
and rising act of her own hands. Try
to escape now, it reads, just try."

Words Patched Together

Last week was very intense. I suppose there must have been “stress” involved as I tried to do more than I could, but what I felt was just the intensity. It was actually good. Amidst all the house things that had to be done by Monday and the garden work that called for a timely response, I was also aware of a strong need to complete & felt, at last, the fiber context that has been changing and co-creating itself with its two recent spirit masks. On Sunday, I greeted the fibers once again and, because of the limits on time to think & re-think & over-think, I just plunged in. My noisy control-seeking mind simply had to move out of the way and let heart, intuition, and hands carry on — without interruption — their conversation with the fibers of wool, silk, and llama. I felt thoroughly engaged with the fibers as we worked together — or sometimes wrestled with each other — and as we opened to each other’s ways. I would speak more about the experience, but in the end I can only say it was deep and very old.

This morning I was reassured by Mary Oliver‘s advice:

"..... just 
pay attention, then patch 
a few words together and don’t try 
to make them elaborate, this isn’t 
a contest but the doorway 
into thanks, and a silence in which 
another voice may speak." 
                                             

~~~~~

~~~~~

We came up to the Blue Ridge Mountains Tuesday afternoon. I am comforted to be held, like a tired & fussy child, in the embrace of these wise ancient stone Beings. Shortly after our arrival, a magnificent pileated woodpecker stopped by. I had not seen one since we moved into town. His presence was pure gift.

At this altitude, it is still early spring. I spend long stretches of time just being with leaves only recently broken out of their buds. Tiny oak leaves are a newborn red, waiting for sun to wake them so they can suckle on its light. The small leaves of many other trees are bright green but still crumpled, like the wings of newly emerged butterflies.

Today the clouds have been drifting lower & lower, their gray mysteries gradually muting the forest.

Enough words for now…..

 "Observe the wonders as they occur around you. 
Don't claim them. 
Feel the artistry moving through 
and be silent." 

~~~ Rumi