“Our most urgent need at the present time is for a reorientation of the human venture toward an intimate experience of the world around us. If we would go back to our primary experience of any natural phenomena – on seeing the stars scattered across the heavens at night, on looking out over the ocean at dawn, on seeing the colors of the oaks and maples and poplars in autumn, on hearing a mockingbird sing in the evening, or breathing the fragrance of the honeysuckle while journeying through a southern lowland – we would recognize that our immediate response to any of these experiences is a moment akin to ecstasy. There is wonder and reverence and inner fulfillment in some overwhelming mystery. We experience a vast new dimension to our own existence.” ~ Thomas Berry, The Sacred Universe
Those of us who are part of an industrialized-capitalist-consumption culture are immersed every day in a multitude of situations that program us to consider ourselves Separate — separate from Earth & all her beings, including others who also call themselves “human.” For example, as I was scrolling through free photos of “person in nature,” I immediately noticed that most of the shots centered on humans atop some kind of peak or pinnacle or other. Many of them were hikers with all sorts of expensive equipment. This is a small example of how our “modern” culture places humans (mostly, in the photos, of European ancestry) & their technology (gorgeous backpacks, etc.) at the top of everything. It conjures up (visually & metaphorically) the cultural belief that Earth’s community is a pyramid, rather than the interconnected web that we know it to be — a pyramid where the humans are always at the top.
What joy to jump over those seemingly impregnable walls of separation and to once more find ourselves where we have always been — in a world of possibilities both ancient and new, embedded in Earth’s community!
As I’m sure others have said before me, perhaps the best possible form of resistance and revolution is simply to love Earthand all her beings &toact fromlove, kindnessand(not transitory “happiness” but)indestructiblejoy!
As we're surrounded by the symphonic bursts of Life in the Spring,
it's an easy time to join in the celebration
and to explore this active resistance further.
The best time is always now -
The best place is always here -
for we are always in the midst of this precious Earth community.
As so often, Mary Oliver says it best:
"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things."
I thought of just leaving this post blank as my April Fool’s prank, but I can’t think of April Fool’s Day without a deep (even reverent?) bow to Trickster. Although Trickster is, as I’ve no doubt said too many times already, much much more than a mere April-prankster or con-artist, the three do have one thing in common: Transgression. Whether it is the Haida Raven trying to hoard Water & Light, or a 10-year old surreptitiously taping a “Kick Me” sign on a classmate’s back, or a phone scammer asking for your social security number — all are transgressing cultural norms, all of them shaking things up. The difference, of course, is the intended result. The scammer is no doubt greedy for money & doesn’t care about how that may shake things up for the victims. Who knows what the school-age prankster wants? It depends on the kids involved & the context — but the aim is probably some sort of perceived personal enhancement. The teller of Raven’s tale is — among many other things, including entertainment — demonstrating the futility of hoarding & strengthening the case for sharing as a culturally-defined necessity. Is the trick for the good of one or for the good of many…..?
Still, it is the shaking up & cracking open caused by Trickster’s exploits that intrigues me — the Trickster’s jumping over boundaries which (whether he lands on his feet or on his head) makes new things Possible. As Barre Toelken’s Navaho informant [and brother-in-law through Navaho adoption] Yellowman explained, Coyote, “unlike all others, experiences everything; he is, in brief, the exponent of all possibilities.” That’s the kind of “transgressing” I’d like to do — to make other ways of living possible in our confused human world. What boundaries might we need to leap these days? How can we do it gracefully enough to make positive new things possible without landing us all, as Trickster sometimes does, in some dire new predicament?
This year, April 1 is also a New Moon — a time that is traditionally associated with new beginnings, the response to new possibilities. I seem to be experiencing quite a few “new beginnings” right now.
Here where I live, Spring has truly taken hold. Migrating birds began arriving in earnest a week or so ago and are now establishing territories in earnest, many looking for mates, and all singing & singing. It’s planting time in the garden. This weekend I’ll have the fun of scattering a chaos of wildflower seeds to grow for the pollinators. This assortment of flowers was a big hit last year with hummingbirds, butterflies, and others. Such a delight visually & ecologically! Although I was late planting, lettuce & kale are starting up & now it’s time to plant the beans. Outside — in garden and woodland — new possibilities of nurture & beauty are emerging every moment.
And then, there’s the onset of really serious downsizing in preparation for a move. I am reluctant to leave this quirky old house, this garden, this friendly old neighborhood with its big oaks. Still, it’s probably a wise step and I see it as an adventure, an opening of possibilities as yet unglimpsed.
We’re not actually moving until early August but, since the real estate market here is hot at the moment, our realtor wants to put our house on the market by the beginning of May. Yikes! I am suffering from decision-making overload. An inability to choose has been a theme of my life….
Letting go of some of my books and memory-packed possessions is painful, although I do love to picture them flying out into the hands of others who will enjoy and perhaps treasure them as I have. I’m still looking for the perfect place to donate the big tub of supplies left over from my workshop-teaching days. And then, as I go through my stash of natural objects [most collected originally for teaching] and all my yarn & fiber, I can think of nothing but exciting Possibilities. Can I finally accept that, though I haven’t run out of ideas, I am running out of years in which to embody those great ideas? Biggest question: How will I keep working on my beloved fiber projects & still make my workroom look like it could be a perfect bedroom for potential buyers? Hmmm… Wish me luck!
In the meantime, Trickster has apparently been playing in my fiber stash. I had so much fun making the little scarf for the Spirit of the Betwixt and Between that I thought it would be fun to make a bunch of human-sized, almost sheer, “cobweb” felted scarves, something I haven’t done for years.
I got out this gorgeous soft fleece of merino and silk (hand-dyed by MyButterflyGreen in Ireland) and looked. It would make a lovely scarf or two.
But then, I turned it over to check the colors on the other side and encountered something more chaotic, something more compelling — Wilder!
I immediately saw not scarves but possibilities for a land where the wind might blow freely…. I remembered the turquoise Mediterranean Sea meeting the ancient sands of the Sahara on the Libyan coast. I remembered the desert wind, sometimes gently sculpting the dunes and sometimes whipping up clouds of sand and dust that could travel as far north as Europe. So — beautifully shaken up by the amazing fibers and by the winds of my imagination — I began to wonder. What spirit mask might want to dwell in such a place?
Who knows? Maybe I’ll have enough of the fleece to do both a felt “painting” and a scarf too. I’m so curious….
All week I’ve been wondering — How would the Dragon have told the tale?
We in the northern hemisphere celebrated
the Spring Equinox last weekend --
a time associated with Emergence, Fecundity, Birth, & Rebirth
I started Sharing Trickster’s Hoard in 2021, just before the Spring Equinox. A few weeks later I came across the two stories that had emerged from my participation in Luisah Teish’s Art-As-Meditation gathering. It oocurred to me then that, in starting the blog, I was finally beginning to live into my New Story. What a delight just now to suddenly realize that the Spring Equinox has come round once again and that [without any planning or forethought!] I find myself emerging even more fully with the posting of these stories. I really feel these days that I am at last coming fully into my own life, writing my own Story.
“A story is a letter that the author writes to himself, to tell himself things that he would be unable to discover otherwise.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts. ”
— Salman Rushdie
And now: Chapter 2
THE STORY OF SHE-WHO-FEATHERS-HER-WINGS-WITH-STARS
TOLD BY HERSELF
Once upon a time, there was a woman who had neglected her wings.
Oh, when she’d been young, they’d been just like anybody’s wings
—strong and sleek
and able to carry her wherever she wanted to go to find
the news that was needed and
bring it home.
Oh, when she’d been young, she’d brought news of the river’s thawing to oaks
still snowbound on the prairie;
she’d sung boughs of ripe apples to the deer;
and she’d rhymed shining open roads
for her bored deskmate in geometry class.
But my! As she got older, how that woman neglected her wings!
Misplacing them among library shelves,
Hiding them under a sweater she’d been given,
Staining them with dribbles of cheap wine,
Hanging them on a hook behind her office door,
Sending them as unaccompanied baggage on a transatlantic flight,
Leaving them lying—once or twice—too long beside some bed where they didn’t fit….
Oh! She neglected her wings!
Now the world went on, and the woman went on in that world,
but she went on without her wings.
When she saw something beautiful and important—
and there were many Beautiful and Important things—
she had no way to fly home with the news. And by the time she’d trudged
along to wherever it was, she’d forgotten so much:
If she tried to sing the news, the tune sounded out of kilter.
If she tried to tell the news, the words tasted stale on her tongue.
People still liked to hear her news, but she found no more joy in the telling —
And she shut her mouth.
What news? called the oak people.
What news? called the deer people.
What news? called the children bored in school.
But that woman who had neglected her wings just shook her head in silence,
and one hot tear rolled down her cheek.
And the rains fell,
And the winds blew,
And the years passed by.
Then, one day, that woman was rummaging amongst her things when she came across
a book—an old dusty book—
and in that book was a bookmark—an old dusty bookmark.
And it was— a— Feather!
If you held it up and shook it out and sleeked it down,
you could see that once it had been azure blue.
“Oh!” cried that woman. “I remember! Mother was calling us to dinner, so I just
plucked this feather to mark my place. Just one feather
— At the time, I didn’t think it would matter to my wings
— I didn’t think about it at all.”
She rocked herself from side to side and began to cry.
“My wings. My beautiful wings. Oh, where have you gone?”
And she began to look. Furtively at first, like a mouse looking for cheese in a roomful of cats. Bolder then, like the first leaves of a seed seeking the sun. And bolder still —
calling aloud (when no one could hear), “Wings! Wings! Come back to me! Come!”
And come wings did — leastways, somebody’s wings:
One day on the lake, a hummingbird paused to look at her—nose to nose
—long and long— before buzzing away.
In the park, a turkey vulture tipped its wise head, put its hands on its hips,
and told her in no certain terms,
“You are in the midst of it!”
Hawks circled above the mountain.
And in the river, a heron stood—long and tall and patient.
And finally, somewhere in her house, that woman heard— a tiny rustling,
faint as the air under an owl’s wing.
And she began to search.
On her shelves, hidden among other people’s books? — No.
In her closet, hung among coats from far countries and academic gowns? — No.
On the desk? In the kitchen? Under the bathroom sink? — No.
That’s where the dreams had been dreaming her — all along.
She unfolded those wings and shook them out.
She tried to smooth the feathers - - - - -
but there weren’t many left to smooth.
“What now?” she asked herself.
“I’m well past my feather-growing days.
How shall I feather my wings enough to fly?”
She thought…and she thought…and she thought…but
she couldn’t think of an answer.
“Poor, poor old wings,” she said. “I am so sorry.”
And without even thinking at all, she gathered them up onto her lap.
And without even thinking at all, she began to do what humans have always done - - -
She began to rock those poor pitiful wings,
And she began to sing to those lonely wings,
And she sang them everything— all the news:
the coyote who’d held her in his gaze;
the earthworms on the rainy sidewalk;
warm, welcoming shoulder of mountain;
moon through winter branches;
comet coursing across the sky.
And as she sang, each word fell from her lips and stuck to those wings—
And each word was a star.
And so she feathered her wings with stars.
And so she flew.
“It is Story that heals us, that shape-shifts us, that saves us.”
— Sylvia V. Linsteadt
“The thing people don’t always want to realize is that stories have great power whether they get told or not.” …. “The question is what story do you need to tell, in order to give notice to that thing with fangs that keeps chewing through your insides.”
— Will Willingham, Adjustments
I’m still writing & rewriting my Story. Are you, too?
“Step from the ordinary noise of the tilled fields or the busy streets into the quiet of the woods. Step across the boundary and the trespass of story will begin. The forest takes a deep breath and through its whispering leaves an incipient adventure unfurls. The quest. In the lull — not the drowsy lull of a lullaby but the sotto voce of a woodland clearing, scented with story as it is with wild garlic — this is the moment of beginning, the pause on the threshold before the journey.”
— Jay Griffiths
Last week I wrote about changing our stories so, of course, I’ve thought more about how mine have changed — far too many & too long & perhaps too tedious to share here. But I can tell you about an explicit and fundamental change that began almost 20 years ago (April 2003) when I participated in my first week-long Intensive at Matthew Fox’s University of Creation Spirituality. I saved the records.
In the mornings, I was part of a group of fellow-explorers, facilitated by the scientist Dr. Larry Edwards, studying the New Cosmology — i.e., the outline of the Universe Story as it was being uncovered by astronomers & physicists and then Earth’s Story as it, too, was currently being uncovered by geologists, biologists, & archaeologists. We began, on that first morning, by re-telling foundational Creation Myths. We spent time with the Miwok story of how, in the Beginning, there was neither land nor water. Silver Fox was lonely, so she sang a prayer-song — and Coyote appeared. [Yes, that trickster Coyote!] Then Silver Fox suggested that the two of them together sing a world into being. And so they did…….. We thought about similarities & differences among the Origin Stories and about how they so deeply color an individual’s or a whole culture’s approach to Earth and her community. As one example, we compared how the Story of Silver Fox & Coyote might lead to a perspective different than, for example, the Judeo-Christian Telling. We pondered… we considered the perspectives given by our own Creation Myths, whatever they might be…. And then, we began to explore the Cosmos…. The next day we started with the Fecund Void, then the Tiny-Compressed-We-Know-Not-What that appeared, and then the great Flaring Forth that occurred — the beginnings of this Universe. We talked about the difference between naming the first moment as Fecund Void rather than Empty Nothingness or naming the moment of Cosmic Birth as a Flaring Forth rather than a Big Bang (with its connotations of violence, noise & shattering). And on we went….
My afternoons were spent in an Art-As-Meditation workshop on Storytelling, facilitated by Yeye Luisah Teish — a teacher, an author, and an Iyanifa and Oshun chief in Yoruba tradition. When I signed up for this topic, I had no idea that the stories we would be telling were our own!
The initial gathering of Teish’s group was exactly that — a gathering, a ritual bringing together of all our individual selves to weave something greater — a safe Community. We were then asked to imagine the Names that had grown out of the stories of our lives so far. I can’t remember what I said — probably Lame Deer. Most of our self-namings were something like that….
Our “homework” for the first night was to write the Old Story we had spun of our lives, the story that had brought us those Old Names. Thanks to my upbringing, I am a very conscientious & diligent student. After supper, I set right to work — trying to include everything. I am fortunate to have grown up in family where many stories (fairy tales, myths, stories set in other cultures) were read to me regularly & often, though my parents did not share many stories of their own earlier lives. I was allowed to roam freely and we went on camping trips to different parts of the country. From earliest childhood I felt a primary bond with the More-Than-Human world. And yet… And yet…. In most childhoods, I think, there has been some sort of And-Yet, whether overt or subtle. As I struggled with the assignment, I finally realized that the only way to capture some of the feelings of my childhood was through fairy tale.
The next afternoon, we told our stories. As always, I held back til last. The stories told by my fellow storytellers were straightforward autobiography — each different, each including many things with which one or more of us could identify. It was a beautiful time of heart-feeling & compassion. And then, after everyone else had spoken, there was no escaping — It was my turn to tell my story to the circle.
MY OLD STORY by Margy Knott [the name I was called as a child]
Once upon a time, a little girl lived with her family in a big old house. It was a wonderful house in most ways — with sturdy roof and walls, and plenty of stairs & bookshelves & hidey-holes, and a big yard with a garden & cherry, apple, and oak trees & vines.
in the basement, there slept a big old dragon
Very big! Very old!
And he was a wonderful dragon in most ways, covered with iridescent green scales and two bony wings that tucked neatly along his sides.
When she was small, the girl would play — in the heat of summer — amongst the cool green coils of his tail. And in the cold of winter, she would lean up against his belly and feel the warmth of the fire within.
there was one big problem with this resident dragon.
Every time anyone in the house got angry, the dragon would feel it —
and he would open his two slitty eyes that shone like golden mirrors,
and he would lift his heavy ancient head just so high,
and he would open the dark daggered cavern of his mouth,
and he would blow out a great burst of fiery breath through the house
— before subsiding into slumber once more.
At first, this odd habit didn’t matter much to the little girl for, when she was tiny, the dragon’s fiery breath simply swirled above her head.
But she was growing.
And as she grew taller, she began to feel the hot blast tangling her hair.
And she stopped snuggling against the dragon’s warm belly in winter.
And as she grew taller still, his fiery outbursts blistered her forehead and dried out her eyes.
And she stopped sliding down his cool tail in summer, and she learned to duck her head when anger was in the air.
Then, one day, someone in the house got angry.
And the dragon woke as always.
And he lifted his heavy head
and he opened his scaly mouth
and he blew out his fiery breath --
— full into the face of the little girl.
She opened her small sweet mouth to protest — but the flames leaped in
— shriveling her tongue, searing her lungs.
Quickly she clamped her lips together and flung herself down to the floor. Curling into a ball in the furthest corner,
she stayed very quiet,
for a very long time.
If I had ever had doubts about the power of Story, they all flew away when I told this story out loud. Hearing my own words, I felt a great change within myself. And I saw changes in the beautiful listening faces of the people in the circle. Many came to speak to me after class. One threw his arms around me and said, with tears, “Thank you. Now I understand my relationship with my father better. It wasn’t all bad!”
Our assignment for the next day was to find a New Name into which we might grow. Again, I went to work conscientiously, seriously …… but I could not come up with a Name. I slunk into the circle the next afternoon and, when all the others had spoken their glorious New Names, I whispered apologetically, “I couldn’t find my Name…. But,” I added with a sudden burst of courage & determination, “I’ll have one by the end of this class.” I had no idea how that might happen!
The rest of the afternoon was spent in movement. At one point, as she drummed a steady beat, Teish spoke simple story prompts such as “Once upon a time, there was ….. One day….. And then……….” And as I danced, something began to coalesce inside me and, when we sat in our closing circle, I was able to say, with some confidence, “I don’t understand what it means, but my new name is She Who Feathers Her Wings With Stars.” My movements had told me so.
Of course, our assignment for that night was to find our New Story, the one that would lead to our New Name. And as I began to write, I began to understand the Name that had come to me.
The next afternoon, we were asked to tell our New Stories — to TELL our stories, no reading allowed! (a few moans & groans in response) But this time, I did not hesitate to volunteer.
Lukas Nelson & Family have a lovely song entitled “Turn Off the News and Build a Garden”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPrPtDoaB3s&list=RDMPrPtDoaB3s&index=1 I am working as I can to build a variety of gardens — with seeds, with fiber, with words, with love for Earth & all she includes. However, I can’t just turn off the news. I have learned to restrict my intake, reading just enough to stay abreast of the news but, of course, I am still saddened and distracted by all the violence & destruction & pain. I think a lot about all the different stories & myths being enacted and encountering each other — sometimes finding ways to cooperate with or even to enrich each other, sometimes locked in the kind of vicious clashes we are now seeing in Russia and the Ukraine. I wonder about the stories to which nations, cultures, & peoples have given over their lives and souls. What, for instance, are the stories which men like Putin have created and absorbed so completely that the stories themselves have taken charge of their thoughts and actions? In her book The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit asks the same question of us all:
“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice…. [….] We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well within which we drown…. [….] Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop.”
“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.”
Because we are humans, we are all saddled as we grow by the family and cultural stories that surround us and by other stories that we encounter along our life journey. If, as Solnit suggests, we become aware of our stories and how they steer us, we are more and more able choose which stories we keep or change or discard — though we must be vigilant because even the stories we thought we’d discarded may occasionally rise as echos or ghosts that try to slip under the radar and affect our perceptions. It’s interesting to look back at the ways our individual stories about ourselves and the world have come, gone, or morphed over the years. For instance, I grew up in a culture in which the human was seen as naturally dominant & in a subculture where the rational mind was venerated, often to the exclusion of physical or emotional or heart-centered ways of knowing and doing. It was a story in which the players believed they could also be uninvolved & unbiased observers and narrators. These are no longer the stories by which I live. It’s easy to say this, but changing these and other personal stories has been an on-going, life-long work
A guiding story for me is the one recent research has suggested on the origin and evolution of the Universe — this expanding, diversifying, and complexifying Universe in which all that exists is interrelated, is kin tracing back to a single beginning. As John Muir famously said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” That includes each of us. We may never see the consequences but we can be sure that the stories we tell ourselves and others are — through thoughts, words, and actions — radiating outward like the rippling rings of water when a pebble is thrown in, having some tiny or even some larger consequences as they move through the Cosmos.
For now I am focusing on making, working with fiber and words and my love of the Earth and all her community — never sure of the consequences for me or for the fibers & words themselves or for the larger world — but trying to think and act in ways that will bring life rather than death. And hoping…
Several weeks ago, I thought I had finished with the Dreaming Towards Dawn mask, but she continued to seem unsettled, to want more. I tried this; I tried that…. Then last week I dreamed of her wearing a crown or headband of coral beads. When I woke up, I remembered the simple little necklace of coral beads I’d gotten in Mobasa, Kenya, in 1964. Its thread had broken many years ago and I always meant to restring it, but…. the beads ended up in a little box somewhere. And when I dug out that box, I found it under another little box containing small earrings I’d purchased in 1968 from a Tuareg woman near Tamanrasset in the Algerian central Sahara. They were enameled, with tiny coral beads set in the pattern. So — still not “done” (whatever that means) but getting to what will be the stopping point.
And after the Spirit of The Betwixt and Between asked to live in a twilight forest (see last week), I set out to make one for her. Then it seemed she needed some sort of wrap, so — after much experimenting — I made her a scarf. I still need to decide whether to use it and if so how. I almost see it as taking her to a whole new context (though that may be a thought for another mask & another time). In any case, she herself needs some further shaping. Oh, I discover so much as I go along with the flow! Great fun — and this is a good (though rather sobering) time to contemplate the meaning of Between-ness as I work.
In the meantime, I continue my primary work, which has been so beautifully described by Mary Oliver:
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
~ Mary Oliver ~
I have been doing my small work of making this week. The mask that I showed you a couple weeks ago (2/11), having already declared herself a Spirit of the Betwixt and Between, has suggested that she would be most comfortable in a forest at twilight. Easier said than done, but I’m trying. And Dreaming Towards Dawn (1/28) has also clarified her requests. Next week I’ll say more & send pictures, but today I want to share the art of an award-winning Ukrainian poet and of a Ukrainian painter.
Lyuba Yakimchuk is no stranger to armed conflict. She grew up in a small town in the eastern part of Ukraine where separatists began armed conflict after the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. Her parent still lived in that region & refused to leave. They planted potatoes & they slept on their harvest in the basement during the shelling. Yakimchuk wrote the poem excerpted here:
"Our Father, who art in heaven
of the full moon
and the hollow sun
shield from death my parents
whose house stands in the line of fire
and who won't abandon it
like a tomb....
our daily bread give to the hungry
and let them stop devouring one another
our light give to the deceived
and let them gain clarity
and forgive us our destroyed cities
even though we do not forgive for them our enemies
and lead us not into temptation
to go down with this rotting world
but deliver us from evil
to get rid of the burden of a Motherland -
heavy and hardly useful
shield from me
my husband, my parents
my child and my Motherland"
For the past 5 years, a sniper has occupied the poet’s childhood home.
Yakimchuk speaks of Story and of Language during war time. The meanings of words are not the same in regions at war and those at peace. In her poems, she demonstrates how war deconstructs not only cities and individuals but also language itself. In the interview, she states that “Language is as beautiful as the world. So when someone destroys your world, language reflects that.” In her poem “Decomposition,” Yakimchuk writes:
"...there’s no poetry about war
only letters remain
and they all make a single sound — rrr ..."
And stories — Both Yakimchuk & her translators speak of the ways that “a nation is narration.” Russia and the Ukraine have differing narratives about Nation & about The Golden Age. In the former, history has been rewritten to accommodate the narrative of Mother Russia.
Yakimchuk also describes the dangers of the traditional Ukrainian stories that say heroes are to be found only among the dead. [This reminds me of Trump’s comment that McCain shouldn’t be considered a hero because he had been captured, not killed….] From the article accompanying the CBC interview:
“War is also a story maker,” said Yakimchuk. “There are damaging narratives in every country — in Ukraine as well … Ukrainians believe that the heroes are dead people. According to [this narrative], a person who managed to stay alive, to survive isn’t a hero. And this idea is very dangerous when war is here.”
She points out that it is the survivors who can shape the stories and the future.
Yakichuk says succinctly [again from the CBC article]:
“I believe culture can program people for behavioral models, and that is what I mean when [I write about] a ‘burden of the motherland,'” said Yakimchuk. “It’s our burden, which in the end we should cope with. And we should invent new stories to tell ourselves. If we don’t, our enemies tell them for us.”
The poet and her translators all point out the difference between praying for Victory or for Peace. Words have meaning, words matter — Does one pray to achieve a success which still carries the seeds of on-going war or to change the narrative to something new and completely different? Perhaps this is something we all need to think about, not only in the political sphere but also in the depths of our own lives.
And still, in spite of everything, her translators point out that Yakimchuk’s poetry includes a sense of playfulness, an affirmation of the small everyday joys of life and the little acts of kindness that bind us together. May we, too, remember all that is good in life and build upon that foundation.
from Song of Peace:
"To Death, said the enemy
and we said, To Life!
New life stirred in us
To Death beat his bullets,
Lechayim, earth cried
after the holocaust --
bursting into bloom.
To Life, greetings fly
as field salutes field...
...The sun fills up
the earth's green cup
We tell stories & share insights not only with words, but through all our creativity, including the visual arts. In her newsletter a few days ago, Julia Fehrenbacher posted this painting by the Ukrainian artist Olesya Hudyma — “Angel of Peace for the Ukraine,” painted in 2015 just after the revolution and during the fighting in the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine (Donbas) where she had grown up and where her parents still lived. In the midst of turmoil this vision is a prayer for and affirmation of Peace:
[I hope you will check out her website olesyahudyma.com to enjoy her beautiful artwork. So many of her paintings are filled with exuberant brushstrokes and color and with details (especially in her Fantasies) that capture the spirit of the Ukraine and its traditional folk arts & tales.]
Remembering the people of the Ukraine
and all the humans and other beings of this Earth community,
let us sing a song of Peace.
My focus in this blog has been & will continue to be on Story & Creativity. However, today, Trickster has decreed that I must speak of something different, though — when you stop to think about it — intimately related.
In 1969, I took a job teaching in the American school in Tripoli, Libya. I arrived more than a week before school started and enjoyed preparing my classroom & beginning to learn about this part of the North African coast. When I stepped out of the house on Monday, September 1, thinking happily of the students I was about to meet, a neighbor called over the wall [we had no phones]: “No school today. There’s been a revolution.” “Oh,” I responded cheerfully, “I’ll bet you tell all the new teachers that!” No, came his response, this is real. And it was.
Muammar Gaddafi had staged the coup d’etat that put him in power for the next 42 years. I continued to live and teach in Tripoli for 5 years. To keep this short, I will just say that during those years I experienced good times and amazing adventures. I also experienced, besides any normal ups-and-downs of life, some traumatic times, large and small.
I am deeply saddened by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Living under a dictator is a matter of life and death.
These deaths include not only those that are not physical but also mental & spiritual, gradually approached through cumulative wounds. For example, one day the school where I taught was notified that all references to Israel must be removed from our library and all teaching materials, including encyclopedias, atlases, and globes. To cover up words with a black marker — to censor — is just such a wound. (Needless to say — but still worth saying — recent moves in the U.S. to selectively ban books and the teaching of history in schools has re-opened that old wound & made me fearful for us and for the children.)
During the recent rise of authoritarian movements (here in the U.S. and around the globe), these past experiences have been vivid & active in my being. I wonder about where this story will go and about how Storytelling and Creativity will fare — how they will be perverted and how they will be used to heal & to open new and better possibilities.
The following litanies & pictures are taken from a thin, not widely-published booklet from 1959 called Song of Peace. It is one that I have treasured since high school, when the optimism of youth made disarmament and peace seem both plain common sense & just over the horizon. The block-prints are by Anton Refregier. I believe that the litanies I quote are by Walter Lowenfels:
"For people to live long
for farmers to have plenty of milk
for fish never to dry up in the river
in my village or yours
I sing a song of peace."
"For your child not to go pale
at seeing the Big Birds
nor tremble before soldiers
anytime it does something naughty
I sing a song of peace."
"For lovers to dance
and to love
and a mother to rock her child
in a cradle of her own
I sing a song of peace."
"That the lilac of the sky
shouldn't turn into
a parachute of an assassin
I sing a song of peace."
"For the fisherman's adventures
for the bright berries of children's eyes
for the magic mirror of unexpected birds
and swallows chirping in the eaves
I sing a song of peace."
"...On all pages anyone ever read
on all ... pages
made of stone
I write your name.
on eagle's nests
on echoes of my childhood
I write your name. .....
On the springboard of my door
on every common object
on the top flame of the fire
I write your name.
On my each body I love
on my friends' foreheads
on every outstretched hand
I write your name. .....
On absence without loving
on loneliness behind bars
on the stairway to death
I write your name.
On health won back
on danger passed
on baseless hope
I write your name.
And by the weight of one word
I start my life over again
I was born to know you
and to call you by your name
This morning (Thursday) I read Amy Codjoe’s remarkable and sensitive short essay, “This Land Was Made: Considering the soil that bears witness to America” https://orionmagazine.org/article/this-land-was-made/?mc_cid=fe57d0b1c4&mc_eid=db8c698749. The essay is a moving contemplation of her African American heritage and its relationship to the land. Many things in it struck deep chords of meaning that are still resonating within me — too many, too much to try to explicate in this space. That would be like trying to summarize a poem. You need to experience it yourself — and I hope you will take the time to do so.
But here, because of other things that have been percolating in my mind over the past weeks, I do want to think about her beautiful use of the words “altered” & “altared.” She writes:
“The soil of this land has been altered—altared—by blood, sweat, and tears falling from black and brown bodies. Even when I am not aware of this, I am aware of this.”
“We altar the land. We create sites of mourning and remembrance on street corners and paint portraits of our murdered in mural-bright colors. We use our green thumbs to …. cultivate a plot of city garden, or kitchen herbs, or acres and acres of farmland.
We pull weeds, again and again. Clean the dirt from under our nails. We begin to act as if what we know is true. As if we’re running out of time.”
ALTER = change; ALTAR = “place which serves as a center of worship or ritual,” …”often used figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something else” (MerriamWebster)
One way to think of rituals is as myths or stories enacted within a sacred space or in order to create a sacred space — to recognize or to make an altar. I’ve spoken about the rising of myth & story from the land itself in indigenous cultures around the world. Myth/Story, Ritual, and Daily Life are inseparable from the Land, which is not only altered but also altared by the living Earth community of which humans are an integral part.
And here I am in North America, born to this land for generations and still a descendant of immigrants who were driven by a variety of circumstances from their native lands in Europe, where their ancestors had learned the myths and stories that had arisen from those particular places, had altered and altared the land over centuries or millennia. What did it mean to them to leave behind the places that held their stories?
We all know many of the ways in which immigrants may alter — and be altered by — the new lands in which they find themselves. Here, in the part of North America where I am now living, the alterations to the land are obvious — swamps drained; forests clear-cut; mountain-tops removed and dumped so that they fill surrounding valleys & bury the streams; soils depleted by unmindful agriculture or scraped away to accommodate buildings…. Living land entombed beneath asphalt & concrete….. We can see that the Land (which includes its geological features and its community of life) has been altered. But have we altared it? If so, what is the meaning of those “altars” evoked by our alterations? For what purpose have they been created? For the well-being of the all-encompassing Earth community or for personal convenience, comfort, profit? I think these are important questions to contemplate.
How do we gently and meaningfully altar (or re-altar) the place where we find ourselves now — in this precise moment of being?
We can do it through our actions. To me, the flooding of fields to make them hospitable to the birds who have flown to the now-missing swamps winter upon winter beyond counting is a making of altar. So is the thoughtful re-introduction of elk and red wolves to the places that gave them birth. And many of us consciously do this altaring of place through our creative work whether our materials are garden soil & native plants, clay, cloth, words, metal, paints, or unspoken dreams….
Sharon Blackie has, in all her written work & oral teachings, stressed the important interconnections among the threads of Story/Myth, Place (in all its aspects), and Human well-being. She often speaks of an original compact of mutual care that must exist among Land, Culture, and “the Otherworld” (however you experience & name the Life Force or Divinity or Mystery). Stories known from many (all?) cultures tell of the wasteland that results from the cutting or the mindless tangling & distortion of these three essential threads of our existence. Dr. Blackie speaks movingly of the need to “re-mythologize” the Land, which is another way of altaring it.
The task of “re-mythologizing” becomes more and more urgent in this time of increasing alienation “– alienation from ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the world we live in. In a 2016 [UK Office for National Statistics] report, around 40 per cent of adults reported that they did not feel a sense of belonging to the places where they lived, and in people under twenty-four the figure rose to a remarkable 50 per cent.” (Blackie, The Enchanted Life)
“When I try to explain to people the essence of my relationship to place, I usually call myself a “serial rooter.” I’ve lived in many places during my life, but I’ve rooted deeply in almost all of them. …… [A]t the very deepest level, place makes us who we are. We think that we imagine the land, but perhaps the land imagines us, and in its imaginings, it shapes us. The exterior landscape interacts with our interior landscape, and in the resulting entanglements, we become something more than we otherwise could ever hope to be.”
“…. For many of us today, though, our relationship with place has become demythologised—a fact which is both an explanation for and a consequence of our sense of alienation from the world around us. Remythologising our places, then, is not just an interesting intellectual exercise, but an act of radical belonging. Like any other species on this planet, we badly need to be grounded; we need to find our anchor in place, wherever we might happen to live. Stories can be our anchors.”
“We’ve forgotten much of the old dreaming; it’s time to scrabble amidst the rubble, and see what stories we can unearth. But even more important is the need to participate in the process of its never-ending becoming. If the stories of a place are alive and transforming, then so is the soul of the world as it expresses itself in that place. And so are we, held within it. Because it’s acts of imagining, ultimately, which keep the world alive and thriving. The land is waiting for those who know how to watch and listen; for those who are open and know how to dream. It’s time to dream along with it.”
Speaking of the Hudson River Valley, the bioregion in which he then dwelt, Thomas Berry [early explorer of deep ecology & theologian — or, as he preferred, “Geologian”] wrote in The Dream of the Earth:
“Tell me a story, a story that will be my story as well as the story of everyone and everything about me, the story that brings us together in a valley community, a story that brings together the human community with every living being in the valley, a story that brings us together under the arc of the great blue sky in the day and the starry heavens at night, a story that will drench us with rain and dry us in the wind, a story told by humans to one another that will also be the story that the wood thrush sings in the thicket, the story that the river recites in its downward journey, the story that Storm King Mountain images forth in the fullness of its grandeur.”
Have you learned the old stories told by those indigenous to the place where you live? Have you discovered new stories that can help heal the wounds in this unique place, in its life community, in ourselves? Here is a photo of some roots along the road I walked this afternoon. How many stories are embodied here? How many myths are being called forth?
Writer's Block: Advice to Myself
Follow the words.
Trust their pathfinding ways.
Like mountain goats, they have
hoofs -- sharp and narrow --
sure to find and pursue
the faintest ripple on
a sheer rock face.
If the words fold their arms and turn their backs,
they learned that posture from you.
Look to the spaces.
No matter how sullen they seem,
words are curious beasts.
If you are lucky, they will
peek over your shoulder,
dart at last under your arm, rushing ahead to run
questing fingers and eyes over
this country of which they have not
If you are stubbing your toe on words,
pick them up and place them in the midst of
anything that flows.
Remember it is stones that set
the rivers singing.
Words are angels:
So they won't take you soaring tonight?
True words won't fight by Queensberry rules.
Your wounds will be real.
So will your blessing.
Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread themselves in all directions!
I come across the marks of roe-deer's hooves in the snow.
Language, but no words.
— Tomas Tranströmer
I love this poem by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. It always reminds me of the summer of 1964, which I spent in Kenya and Tanzania as an undergraduate research assistant studying baboon behavior with Dr. Irven DeVore. In addition to the required reports of my observations, I’d planned to keep a personal journal of my own feelings & experiences — but I couldn’t. For these, I had no words.
Those were the days when, for example, it was OK for a scientist to talk about struggles for “dominance” among animals or about “instinctive bonding,” but any mention of emotional relationships or personal preferences among animals was met with outraged cries of “Oh No! Anthropomorphizing! Not Science!” [And, of course, that’s still true in some circles today.] I had to record the notes needed for the research project in the typical scientific language that pretends to be devoid of personal perspective, emotion, or judgement. And, of course, the constraints of this scientific language we used to translate our observations & experiences created the illusion of distance from the actual bio-scape in which we were, in fact, not some disembodied & unconnected “observers” but active participants.
For the deeper experience of spending whole days alone with a multitude of diverse other-than-human species, I found I could construct no adequate English sentences. I complained to myself about the “limits of language” but, of course, I was surrounded by a multitude of aural & visual languages akin to the “the marks of roe-deer’s hooves” — some of which I did learn. “Language” itself was not the problem. It was my own native English language — with its inherent tendency to separate & depersonalize — that led to my frustration. I imagined that the original languages of peoples native to & woven into that place — human languages that had arisen in close attunement to the languages of the land & its other inhabitants — might include not only a vocabulary but also a grammar through which I could have found ways to express my feelings and experiences of relationship. [I have since learned that this is true of Native American languages.]
My husband & I encountered the same problem years later, when we lived on a farm in the woods near the Blue Ridge Mountains. We could not find English words to use as a short-hand to describe our relationship with the clear mountain river that ran near our house. To say “our” river suggested an “ownership” that did not exist & which would have completely contradicted the nature of our relationship. We were not the “possessors” of the magical river. It was relationship, not possession. Respect, love, admiration, and humility….
Even terms like “nature” (meaning “other” than human) and “environment” (that which “surrounds” — i.e., is distinct from — something) cut us English-speaking humans off from our true kinship with Earth community. Trying to describe my experience of being with the swans this past week presents a similar sort of conundrum….
The time at the refuges was beautiful — overflowing with beauty … both the beauty of the swans and other creatures themselves & the beauty of my own comprehension of kinship with them… and so much more.
This was not the completely immersive experience we’d had with the great migrating flocks at Chincoteague, a refuge established in my birth year of 1943 & bearing fewer obvious marks of human control. Many of the swans we saw here in North Carolina were dispersed in small groups on fields that had been specially flooded after the harvest. We did see one large gathering of tundra swans (hundreds, thousands?) on the far side of Pocosin Lake. At one point, something must have disturbed them for they all rose together, filling the air with the loud music of both wings & voices as they swept in one coherent cloud around and around the lake before settling down again on the water. Majestic, awe-inspiring, far beyond words…
And I had the good fortune of watching from only yards away as otters swam and hunted under the water. Two rose separately to the surface, each with a big fish in his or her mouth, and galumphed off into the woods on opposite sides of the drainage ditch. One had to cross the dirt road where we were standing. I’ve seen otters swimming and playing — sliding on ice on the river near our old home — but I’d never seen one moving on land. Like the swans, so graceful in their water element but more awkward-seeming in their land-bound movements. Again, beauty….
Another blessing was my encounter with the land itself. Flat, flat, completely flat. [I’ll never again complain that the land around Greensboro is too flat!] I quickly became aware of all the drainage ditches & dikes that, over the hundreds of years since the European incursion, have turned the land from a variety of biologically rich swamps into fields for industrialized agricultural production. Not until the mid-1980s were national wildlife refuges established in this area of eastern North Carolina to at least partially restore some of the wetlands & to offer some protection to native plants and animals, including the great flocks of migrating birds. Current “management” includes such programs as on-going research, soil & water supervision, prescribed burning, and cooperative farming — a complex response to a complex situation.
It reminded me of our recent trip to the elk restoration project in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia and Kentucky. Ironically, the elk restoration was located on the “restored” land that remained after mountaintop-removal mining. At least it seemed an acknowledgement or gesture, though small, of restitution for human destruction of our kin. Needless to say, my response there, as it was last week, was mixed — grief for the destruction of irreplaceable Earth communities, hope for the efforts that are being made to mitigate the devastation & move into a more compassionate future.
Anyway, my husband & I were much restored in mind, body, and spirit by last week’s encounters. And my curiosity was also set aflame with many wonderings — about the land and its history, about the “official” human relationships with animals (e.g., the discontinued red wolf recovery project may soon be re-instated), and about the tundra swans themselves & their incredible annual migrations. How can the swans fly round-trip every year from Alaska & northern Canada to the mid-Atlantic seaboard of the U.S.?!
Our individual inner well-being, like our physical health, cannot be separated from the well-being of Earth community — from the well-being of all our relations. As always, the poets say it best:
Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner -- what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.