3 Old Women

A spider has been building orb webs in the upper corner of our porch. (She reminds me of another spider who companioned me at an important juncture — but that’s another story for another time.) I am happy to have her company, for I have been thinking about the Old Woman who, in myth, weaves the world into being and, in times of change, takes out the threads and weaves anew.

This isn’t just because I now am an old woman. I have long been drawn to the Old Weaver & to other manifestations of the Wise Old Woman who appears so often in Story & Myth — fierce, independent, on the edges of society, close to both the natural & the other worlds…

Of course, I knew Her from many of the folk tales of my childhood — not always a wicked witch but sometimes a helper & healer. She truly took root in my imaginal realm when I was an 18-year old freshman in college. Several years ago, I wrote of that memorable encounter, trying to puzzle out why a teenager might have been so permanently imprinted with a positive image of old age & death:

	ANTHRO 101

December, and late afternoon sun
edges wearily through half-basement windows,
into chalk-dusty air redolent of
camphor, ancient leather, and bone in the museum above.
Students scribble in spiral notebooks while
the professor drones on about Arctic cultures.

“Conditions were harsh,” he notes, "but if a woman did grow old,
she might spend her final years commandeering young men 
to take her visiting village to village --- until,
no longer able to sew a seam or spin a tale, 
she walked out onto the sea ice alone.”

As he speaks, an unseen door opens,
caribou-hide covering sweeps aside, and
an old woman enters the room --
hood of her sealskin parka thrown back
to reveal braids gray as late winter ice.
“Who has called me?” she asks.

The professor lectures on without lifting his eyes;
students write, doodle, or doze in their seats.
“Who calls?” she repeats.

	Did I turn a little to the half-heard voice,
	lifting my eyes to meet hers, bright
	and merry amid the wrinkled terrain of age?

For sixty years I have carried her 
-- silent and light as eagle down --
along the northern margins of my mind;
I have pulled her forward as steadily as 
a team of huskies heading for home;
I have nourished her in equal share with everything 
I have hunted for myself.

Of late, we have begun to converse more freely,
to sit and sew and spin stories together.

The ice is melting.
When it is time, where will we go?
                                                          --- MCK

*****

Then, in 1973, in Yugoslavia, I met an old woman as she walked, spinning yarn, along a country road. We talked — with no language in common but lots of gestures & laughter. She couldn’t believe that neither my friend nor I knew how to spin — grown women though we were! Several years later, I found that she, too, had entered my imaginal realm — becoming stronger within me as I learned to spin and weave.

*****

As my 50th birthday approached, the Old Woman moved to the forefront of my imagination. I read myths & stories, getting to now her many ways of being in many different cultures. I looked forward to growing “older & wiser” and began searching diligently for my first gray hairs (which, alas, still haven’t appeared).

About that time, I discovered that the word “Crone” was derived from a older word meaning “a carcass” or “an old & worthless ewe.” I responded by writing a triumphal Crone poem:

CRONE

is my favorite word these days.
Wonderful sound of 

crow:	  old shape-shifter, one-eyed seer into future, or
	          verb of exultation.

drone:	  the steady throb of dulcimer or bagpipe—not melody but
	         the tone that holds it all together.
	
bone:	  the hard, the lasting.

CRONE —	you beautiful word, you have been mistreated,
		manhandled by makers of linguistic lists,

		linked to “carrion: putrefying flesh” or
		“old ewe with broken teeth to be culled from the flock.”

		Why not tied to “chronios: long-lasting” like CRONY?
		Why, old long-time woman—ancient buddy— why not?

You, CRONE, are a feisty fiddle upon which life has been playing
in all tempos, all weathers, for a long long time.
No shiny new penny whistle can sing with such depth.

CRONE, you are ragged and straggled
with elf-locks in the wind
and a belly laugh that sends
muscle-proud lads scurrying for cover.
Old Baubo, you raise your skirts and
show them what they fear.

CRONE, you are as beautiful as the last apple
on the tree in November, the final apple 
in the barrel come March:  No young face holds
such terrible beauty as the face of one who
knows that she knows the truth of her days.

CRONE:	I chant you as mantra,
		I chase your whirlwind,
		I dream hooked beak and vulture wings.

I’m coming, I’m coming—not far behind you.
Save me a place at the old crones’ feast.

*****

The 3rd old woman to take root in my imaginal realm was Jouška, who arrived during a delightful & insightful experimental workshop on “Art & Character” led by the artist Roz Casey . We engaged not only with art-making and writing, but also with some imaginative experiential prompts — for example, walk down a familiar path sensing it in the ways that your character would. As I took my favorite walk through the wooded acres across the road, sensing my surroundings as Jouška might have done, I was amazed how deeply the place and its beings came alive for me. I have always been aware of the natural world, learning from it and sending my love in return for its many gifts — but my habitual awareness felt superficial compared the awareness revealed through Jouška — an old woman living about 1,500 years ago in the depths of the boreal forest of Karelia (home of the Kalevala mythology & now straddling the Finnish/Russian border). This Old Woman continues to walk within and beside me.

Lately I have realized that as I converse now with the Shaman figure, trying to learn who she is & who she wants to be, it is Jouška‘s voice that I hear guiding me. I dug deeper into my stash last week & found more leather and the remnants of a old, old fox-fur hood. I used my old walnut dye to color the wooden base & the leather that covers it. Here is the Shaman in one of her possible be-comings — for she is still and always coming more & more into Being, just as we all are.

As I age, I realize that I have apprenticed myself to these 3 Old Women. They have taught and continue to teach me in so many ways. Learning from them, stepping with them into the Unknown, what shall I discover next?

******

” …. ‘Tell me one thing,’ said the eldest Princess to the Old Woman…, ‘Tell me one thing. Was that you ahead of me on the road, in such a hurry?’

‘There is always an old woman ahead of you on a journey, and there is always an old woman behind you too, and they are not always the same, and may be fearful or kindly, dangerous or delightful, as the road shifts, and you speed along it. Certainly I was ahead of you, and behind you too, but not only I, and not only as I am now.’ ….”

[A.S. Byatt, “The Story of the Eldest Princess,” in The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye]

A Story for Our Times

This week the Shaman/Lady of the Forest and I [see previous post] have been engaged in a long and deep conversation. Like all good conversations, once expectations & preconceptions have been released, this conversation has taken many interesting twists and turns, and needs to continue a bit longer.

*******

The story I want to share with you today is based on an old Slavic tale. I first heard it several weeks ago from the storyteller, Audrey di Mola. I was enthralled and immediately thought: “This is the story we need to hear now, in these perilous times.” I’ve listened again and found other tellings — each unique. And, as I listened & read, I saw more and more shiny threads in the story’s tapestry — the same threads that are being woven into our on-going story today. So I offer it to you with gratitude to the Old Ones who first told the story and to Audrey and other storytellers that have kept it alive through the ages. It’s a long tale, so settle in comfortably and listen for what the story wants you — in all your uniqueness — to hear. 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.

Once Upon a Time — yes, that time; or this time; or any time — Once upon a time, there lived a handsome hunter and his beloved horse, just at the edge of the deep dark forest. Every day the hunter and his companion would set off into the forest to look for deer or bears or even small creatures with which to sustain themselves by selling the extra meat and fur in the village market. And so it was that one day, like any other day, the hunter and his horse walked into the forest to follow the trails that animals had made. But this day, as they walked, the hunter saw something shining on the path — not a paw print, not a stray feather from a nearby bird, but a feather that glowed and seemed to burn in its own light. ….. It was a feather from the Firebird.

The hunter bent down and started to reach for it when his horse said firmly, “Do not pick up that feather. If you do, you will have great troubles.” The hunter heard his horse. He hesitated …. but he felt the call of the feather pulling him forward. “Oh,” thought the hunter, “if I take this precious feather to the Tsar, surely he will reward me with great riches.”

The hunter picked up the feather. He marveled at its flaming colors. He felt its warmth in his hand. … And so they set off to the great palace of the Tsar. It was a long journey, but the feather stayed bright & warm in the hunter’s hand, flickering with the brilliant light of its inner flame The horse walked beside him, shaking his head all the way.

After a time, they neared the palace, with its many stone turrets & gleaming golden domes. With some trepidation, the hunter knocked at the great gate. Once. Twice. Three times. …. And finally the gate — creaking slowly with almost a moan — opened before them.

When the guard saw the Firebird’s feather in the hunter’s hand, he stared for a long minute…. And then, after asking someone to take the horse to the stables, he led the hunter straight to the throne room.

The hunter paused a moment, taking in all the glitter & gold & rich brocades. He had never seen such wealth before. For a moment he longed to be back in his familiar forest, but he gathered his courage and spoke to the Tsar. “Your majesty,” he said, “I have come to give you this feather of the Firebird.”

The Tsar took the feather from the hunter’s hand. For a moment the Tsar’s face radiated wonder & delight. But soon his face changed and he spoke. “You are a great hunter to find such a treasure. Surely, next you can bring me the Firebird itself and I will reward you with riches beyond your dreams.” The hunter started to shake his head, but the Tsar, pulling his sword from its embroidered velvet-covered scabbard, continued. “But do you see this fine sharp blade on my sword? … If you fail, it will slice your head from your body.”

Trembling, the hunter left the throne room and sought his horse in the palace stables. He threw his arms around the horse’s solid warm neck & told him of the Tsar’s order. The horse nuzzled him and then said, “Fear not…The worst is still to come!”

The hunter began to weep, but his horse continued, “Ask the Tsar for oats & wheat & barley & rye from his great granaries — enough to fill a dozen large wagons. Then we will catch the Firebird.”

The hunter returned to the Tsar and made his request. “Of course,” said the Tsar. “This is a rich realm and I have grain to spare!”

That evening the hunter & his horse took the grain to a beautiful field and spread it all around, leaving enticing piles of grain here and there. They waited. Night fell. Their eyelids felt heavy. Still — with eyes wide open, they waited and waited until, at last, down from the sky swooped that Firebird in all his glory. The Firebird ruffled his feathers — sending sparks like stars into the dark — and he began to gobble the grain.

The hunter hid behind the horse. Slowly, slowly, forward they crept. The horse proceeded step by step in a roundabout route, keeping his head low, pausing now & then to innocently eat of the golden grain, but always drawing nearer to the Bird.

After a time, they found themselves next to the Firebird, whose head was still bent to the grain. … And … in less than a blink of an eye … the horse raised his foot and — down it went! Right onto the tail of the Firebird! The hunter rushed in and bound the beautiful bird with ropes. He picked him up and felt flames leaping into his heart. He felt awe and wonder as he gazed upon the feathers of gold and crimson and shimmering copper. The Firebird did not thrash or call out, but just answered his gaze with a proud glare. Oh, it seemed wrong to bind such a free spirit! For a moment, the hunter hesitated.

But then he remembered the reward the Tsar had promised and, with his horse, hurried back to the palace.

When the Tsar saw the Firebird in the hunter’s arms, he gave the bird a fleeting glance of admiration. But then, stuffing the bird into a bejeweled cage of gold, the Tsar’s face changed. He looked from the bird to the hunter. “Oh, my boy,” said the Tsar. “You are a brave and clever hunter indeed. A man such as you can surely bring back the one thing I most desire. The beautiful Princess Vasilisa lives in a far kingdom. She shines like the sun, the most beautiful of all the women in the world. She must be mine! Bring back Vasilisa and I will give you riches — heaps of gold so high you will not see their top. ….. But if you fail, I will throw you into the moat. It is filled with ravenous beasts. And if you somehow survive their teeth, their tentacles, their claws, their ugly tusks — if you are able to lift your head out of the water –” The King paused and drew his sword. “There is still this blade to separate your head from your shoulders. Do you understand?”

The hunter trembled. He nodded once — then turned to go out to find his horse. When the horse saw the hunter’s face wet with tears, he asked “Now what?” And the hunter hung his head and replied, “Now I must bring back the Princess Vasilisa from a faraway kingdom. And if I fail, not only the blade, but teeth & tentacles, claws & tusks…. What shall I do? What shall I do?”

And the horse answered, “Fear not! … The worst is still to come! …. Go to the Tsar and ask for pack horses laden with gilded pavilions, ask for the best meats and wine, parquet tables and soft pillows for reclining. And tell the Tsar he must send with you his best singers and musicians.”

Still shaking, the hunter repeated this request to the Tsar. “Of course, my boy! Anything you want! But you must bring me the beautiful Vasilisa — or….”

And so it was. Early the next morning the hunter and his horse set off with all they had requested. It was a long, long journey. There were flooding rivers to cross, rocky cliffs to climb, deep dark valleys where wolves & thieves lurked.

I do not know how long they traveled or how many adventures they had along the way, but late one afternoon they reached a lake. Far out upon the still blue waters, a lady rowed a golden boat with silver oars. And even from such a distance, they could see her beauty, her proud straight back, her flowing ebony hair. Surely this was the Princess Vasilisa.

Quickly, they set up camp. They raised the pavilions and decorated them with fine rugs and soft pillows of silk and velvet. They spread out the meats & fruits & bread & wine upon fine silver trays and set them on the polished parquet tables.

Then, just as the sun was dipping low in the sky, sending its last rays to set the silvery flags and the golden tent tops ablaze in beauty, the musicians began to play and the lady reached the shore.

Gallantly the hunter held out his hand to help her up from the boat. He bowed low. “Princess Vasilisa, it is getting late. Will you join us for supper?”

Vasilisa smiled and nodded her head, and the hunter led her into grandest pavilion.

I do not know exactly what transpired, but I do know that the hunter and Vasilisa talked and ate and drank and laughed. They fell into a long conversation and their heads were close together and finally, in the dark, they fell asleep on plump pillows under quilts of embroidered silk.

In the morning, they rose and smiled at each other. “Will you come with me,” he asked, “to the court of the Tsar?”

Vasilisa agreed, so off they went. And it was a long, long journey. I do not know exactly what happened, but the hunter felt himself changing with each mile they traveled. And Vasilisa smiled.

At last, Vasilisa and the hunter stood in the throne room and faced the Tsar. At once, the Tsar sprang from his throne and stood before the beautiful Princess Vasilisa. Seeing her dark eyes, her fine straight nose, her hair as black as a raven’s wing, & her shapely supple young body, the King crowed, “At last you are mine! I will marry you and you shall be mine forever.”

The Princess Vasilisa took a step back and, holding her head high, spoke to the King. Her voice was pure music, but her tone & her words were firm and strong.

“Your Highness,” she declared, “I cannot marry until I have my wedding dress.”

“Oh, never mind about that,” the Tsar said quickly. “I will give you a wedding dress of lace embroidered with gold and encrusted with jewels — far more elegant than any old dress you might have.”

“No.” Again Vasilisa spoke slowly and carefully. “I will not marry without my own wedding dress. Better than jewels or rich embroidery or lace, my wedding dress is covered with the words wisdom spoken by my mother & sisters & aunts, and by their mothers & sisters & aunts, and by their mothers, and their mothers, and their mothers, and on back to the wisdom of the Old Woman of the World. This precious dress is under a granite rock deep, deep, at the bottom of the sea. I will not wed without it.”

In a flash, the Tsar turned to the hunter. “You heard her,” shouted the Tsar. “You must go and bring back her dress. And if you fail, I shall hang you high and then cut off your head and throw your meat into the moat so that the ravenous beasts can dine at their leisure.”

The hunter moved to the door and, sobbing, went out to find his horse. The horse listened patiently to the hunter’s woeful tale. Then, shaking his mane, the horse said, “Fear Not! The worst is still to come!” and said no more. The hunter, still weeping, asked what he should request from the Tsar. “Nothing. You need nothing the Tsar has to offer,” said the horse. So off they went together, seeking the sea at the edge of the world.

I do not know how far they journeyed. I do not know how many tall mountains they climbed, how many deep valleys they crossed, how many fierce wolves & thieves they met in the dark forests. But I do know that it was only after many days and twice as many adventures that they reached the sea at the edge of the world.

The wind blew and the sea tossed. White-crested waves rose above them. Still, pausing only to kiss his horse, the hunter stripped off his ragged clothes and plunged into the icy depths. Down he swam. And down and down until at last he could dimly see, far below, a gigantic granite boulder. Down he swam. Beneath the great rock, the hunter glimpsed what might be a corner of white fabric — but, push though he did, the hunter could not budge the boulder. His lungs were bursting, he had to breath…. The hunter struggled upward through the wild waters until, gasping & gurgling, his head rose into clear air and he swam to the shore.

The hunter was startled to see his horse talking to a large lumpy bumpy creature who appeared to wear a circlet of silver about his hard, shell-bound brow. His horse introduced the King of the Crabs. The hunter bowed and then told the tale of his dive into the deep. When he finished, he turned to the gigantic Crab King and asked, “Can you help me?”

The King of the Crabs replied haughtily, “Why should I help a two-legged one like you?” The hunter answered, “I shall give you…” he reached into his pack. Nothing. He shook it upside-down…once…twice…. On the third shake, a small crust of dry bread fell out of the very bottom of the pack.

Ashamed, the hunter hung his head. He held out the bit of bread. Without hope, he said, “Your majesty, I can give you this.”

The King of the Crabs raised his great claws and placed them on the hunter’s shoulders. The hunter’s heart thudded with fear. But the Crab King spoke gently. “My child,” he said. “It is enough. I will help you find that which you seek.”

The Crab King gave a shrill whistle and the waves seemed to calm. He whistled once more and the water began to churn not with wind or tide but with the motion unseen creatures. When he whistled a third time, all the crabs in the sea crawled up on the beach to listen to their King. “My beloved brothers & sisters,” said the King, “this hunter seeks a wedding dress hidden beneath the biggest boulder in the sea. I ask you please to roll the rock aside and bring him what he desires.” And so they did.

With the white linen dress folded carefully in his arms, the hunter and his horse set off once more — over hill and dale, through strange villages and dark forests — to reach the palace of the Tsar. Their adventures were too many to tell, but every mile the hunter felt a change within himself as what had been too soft grew firm & strong and what had been too hard softened & relaxed. And on they went to the gleaming palace of the Tsar.

Entering the throne room, the hunter handed the dress to Vasilisa. “Here, as you asked, my lady, is your dress inscribed with the wisdom of all the women of the world.”

“Quick,” ordered the Tsar. “Prepare the wedding feast and the royal chamber, for tonight I sleep with my new wife, Vasilisa!”

Then Vasalisa held up her hand for him to stop. “No,” she said. “There is yet one more thing I require. I require this man to jump into a cauldron of boiling water.” She pointed to the hunter.

“No problem,” said the Tsar. Quickly he summoned his servants to build a huge hot fire, and soon a big cauldron of water was bubbling & the air above it was clouded with steam. “Now,” said the Tsar, turning to the hunter. “Do it!”

Once again the hunter trembled with fear and hot tears slid down his cheeks. He remembered all the journeys, all the trials & tests, all the adventures ….. and he remembered his horse.

“Sire,” he said. “May I first take a moment to say farewell to my faithful friend?”

“Oh, all right,” huffed the Tsar. “But make it quick! The sun is falling low in the sky. Vasilisa must be my wife before tonight’s feast begins.”

Yet again, the hunter went out and leaned his head against the horse’s warm neck. But even the soft comforting snorts of the horse &the tickling of his mane could not stop the hunter’s tears. “Goodbye, my dear friend,” the hunter said, and told of the fire, the cauldron, the boiling water.

The horse shook his head. “I will not say goodbye. Just remember our adventures & gather together all the pieces of yourself, all your changes over the miles. Remember what we did, but most of all look into your heart. Cherish what has grown bold & strong. Cherish what has softened & opened. Then run, as fast as you can, and jump into the cauldron.”

The hunter kissed his horse and returned to the throne room to be greeted by roaring blaze & bubbling cauldron. He looked around and saw the Tsar grinning from ear to ear. He saw Vasilisa, standing steadfast & calm. He saw all the courtiers that had gathered to witness the horrifying spectacle. Then the hunter paused and breathed deeply. He looked into his heart. He remembered his journeys. He remembered his changes. He gathered together all the pieces of himself. And he ran straight to the cauldron — and leaped in!

Amongst the crowd there were shocked gasps & nervous titters, but from the cauldron ……. only silence. The crowd waited. They waited for screams. They waited for bits of charred bone to rise to the top. They waited…..

The Tsar turned triumphantly toward Vasalisa and reached out his hungry hand. But … just at that very moment … a roar went up from the crowd — a roar that rattled the stained glass windows & shook the great timber beams above!

All eyes — even the eyes of the Tsar — turned toward the cauldron as — up & out — sprang the young hunter. Oh, he had been handsome before, but now he seemed to shine. His strong muscles rippled beneath his shirt & his eyes glowed with new fire. He turned towards Vasilisa. They both smiled.

Enraged, the Tsar screeched, “I am the Tsar! I am richer than the hunter, and I can become even more handsome than he!” And the Tsar turned to this servants and ordered, “Help me into the cauldron.” And so they did. And so the Tsar tumbled head over heels into the cauldron. ……. And he was never seen again, though a gray scum of fat rose to the surface briefly before sinking again.

The hunter and Vasilisa looked at each other and went to the golden cage that hung next to the throne. Together, they pulled open the jeweled door and freed the Firebird. With feathers flaming brightly once again, the Firebird rose and circled once, twice, thrice above them in gratitude & blessing before flying out the window and home to his nest, where he remains to this day.

Then the hunter and Vasilisa went out to the courtyard where the horse stood, and they bent their heads humbly, and they thanked thanked him.

So the hunter and Vasilisa were married and they lived, as we all do, day by day. And whether they ruled as King & Queen or whether they returned to the hunter’s hut or whether they set off on marvelous journeys I do not know…… But I do know that their adventures were many and the horse was always at their side…..

And so my tale ends. Make of it what you will.

Artist unknown — found in an article by Timothy Judd

*******

"The truth about stories is that that's all we are."
                                                                  --- Thomas King

Mostly Just Being

Here it is Thursday evening & I am suddenly aware that all week I have been taking a kind of vacation — not “from” the everyday world but in it. Not trying to decipher or explain anything, but simply living where I am.

I’ve spent long stretches of time watching the birds at the two feeders — seeing the individual quirks and always interesting interactions of the many seed eaters, watching the flock of mourning doves who come to pick up spilled kernels from the ground, and noticing that the two female hummingbirds have been coming less often to their feeder. Perhaps now it is just one. I wonder if the hummingbirds are heading south already — but I feel no overwhelming need to “know.” They are doing what they do, and I am privileged to get even such brief glimpses of their lives. One evening, a large red-shouldered hawk roosted for awhile in one of the trees near the bridge before flying off in all his magnificence. Most evenings, we see a small herd of does & fawns grazing on the grassy berm beyond the bridge. This evening a group of deer came up from the woods to graze just outside our window. Several of the fawns were still spotted (younger than I’d expect at this time of year) and still full of mischief, chasing each other and making exploratory forays away from their mothers.

Mary Oliver says it most beautifully:

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 half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the 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.

Besides the animals, I have had 2 great Teachers this week.

As always, The Tree — the old one behind our house — continues to encourage me to grow my roots more deeply into this soil and also to grow upwards, becoming (perhaps, some day) strong and firm enough to put forth more generous branches. I am in awe of the gifts of food & sanctuary The Tree offers to squirrels, to birds, to myriad other unseen creatures, to the soil that supports her, and to me — every day.

My other Teacher has been the Shaman figure — the Lady of the Forest — to whom I introduced you last week. When I started her so many years ago, I was fascinated by a knobbly piece of wood with two antlers projecting from one end — fallen from some never-identified tree. Without any plans about where this might go, I made her a head to hold the branching bits & covered it with paper from an old wasps’ nest. I’d gathered several more twigs that could serve as hands. I began to collect shells & other small objects she might like. I vaguely supposed I could make her a body of felt & stuff it with wool. I tried. It didn’t work. I realized she needed some bones, an armature to support her firmly, but — not knowing where to begin — I stuck her safely in the back of my closet. Every so often I took her out to spend time with her ….. but I was never ready to undertake the work required. Easier to stay with the soft fibers that were familiar beneath my fingers. And back into the closet she went.

After our move, she caught my attention in a new way. Somehow one of her antlers had failed to survive the short journey. No problem, I thought. I glued it back together so that the break could be noticed only if one studied it intently. Perfect! ….But…. the glue didn’t hold for more than a day or so. I thought of leaving her with only one antler and one stub [surely there would be a story in that] but she looked back at me fiercely & her will was stronger than mine. This past week I spent day after day, trying to mend the break. At last, I succeeded. The failed attempts had left their marks on the wood. There is now a noticeable scar. But then, if one is alive, there will be marks & scars from various encounters. I certainly have many — visible and invisible — and, after a time, I have become stronger for the encounters — the woundings and the healings. In the Old Way, a shaman’s powers were achieved or deepened by the survival of life-threatening encounters — so it is fitting that the Lady of the Forest bear scars of her encounters with life, including my clumsy fingers. Somehow, the scarring has made her seem more approachable….. I’ve continued our conversation eagerly, with new understanding.

The Lady has made me leave my comfort zone — forcing me to get over my hesitations & just figure out how to work with wire and how to engage short stubby branches — how to help her become the strong and firmly rooted Being that I’ve seen in her all along. Now I must stretch myself again to make clothes for her — not out of my preferred felt or cloth, but out of what she demands.

In keeping with my sense of who she is, I am — except for the purchase of wire — using only the materials I already have on hand. I found two scraps of leather in a drawer. One seemed to be a perfect grey-brown, matching the tones of her head and body (wrapped with yak roving), but it is too small for a dress. The larger piece is too yellow. Fortunately I’d saved a couple of bottles of my walnut dye from last winter. This morning I tried a small bit of the yellowy leather in the dye — and was doubly delighted. Not only did the dye subdue the yellow, but the process let slight variations in the leather’s surface absorb the dye in different ways. Random and subtle and just what I think she would wear — much more appropriate than the unvarying commercially-produced “perfect” color I’d thought was my first choice. A wonderful affirmation of Process — and the source of many smiles & a good reminder of the fun of just playing with what is at hand. [I’m sorry I couldn’t capture the three true colors in a photo. They really are quite different from each other.]

So…….now I have to figure out how to sew the leather. It is soft & pliable, but still thick enough to challenge a needle. Again, the puzzle — and the joy — of working with What Is.

I’ve always tended to fight “limits.” In my writing, I’ve stubbed my toe on and lashed out at the inherent limits of my language. In my weaving days, I spent hours threading a multiharness floor loom in a way that could establish complex patterns…..only to spend most of my weaving time trying to subvert the structure — the limits — of the warp I’d created. [In this, am I a rebel against or a child of the current MonoCulture that insists “Anything” should be possible…?]

In any case I am learning again and again that without form, structure, and limits, there would only be a dreary mishmash of nothing-in-particular. Even Trickster tales — as liberating and paradigm-shattering as they can be — acknowledge the presence of constraints. Oh, I guess I’m ready to explore this knowing again — ready, at last, to accept what this Shaman, the Lady of the Forest, has been waiting so many years to teach me.

Wildness: Both Turbulent & Still

This week I have been living in two very different but equally Wild places.

Two books I’ve been reading concurrently have tossed me into turbulent cascades of Wild energy:

In The Eye of the Wild, the French anthropologist Nastassja Martin recounts her interaction with a bear — violent on both sides — in the Siberian wilderness of Kamchatka & her struggles to recover and to come to terms with what had happened. Her journey is slow and painful — physically and mentally. Martin has lived with both the Gwich’in people of Alaska & the Even people of Kamchatka — peoples who dwell in areas where climate and culture are undergoing rapid changes. She has been particularly on Animism. Now she must learn for herself what that intimate near-death encounter with a bear meant, how it is to be — as the Even say — medka, half-human/half-bear.

The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir was written by a woman who grew up, amid the violence of Colombia in the 1980s and 90s, in a Mestizo family — a people who experience daily a life of inbetween, being neither fully Indigenous nor fully white. Having a grandfather who was a well-known curandero — a healer knowing the old secrets — Ingrid Rojas Contreras found her family to be set apart in still other ways. As an adult in the U.S., an accident leaves her with an extended bout of amnesia — a condition that, she learns, was experienced by her mother as a child. As she tells of her own experience of amnesia and as she digs deeper into the stories of her family’s past, Rojas Contreras reveals the complex cultural & personal legacies that shape her sense of reality.

Both books are true stories of metamorphosis and becoming, shape-shifting and transformation, stories in which Wild energies are freed & allowed to have their say in the unfolding narratives.

And then, yesterday, Audrey di Mola’s energetic & enlivening retelling of the story of King Arthur, Sir Gawain, and Dame Ragnelle (aka “The Loathly Lady”). Here we meet Ragnelle not merely as some unimaginably ugly hag, but as the feminine embodiment of the Wild & Shape-Shifting natural (more-than-human) world — an energy that demands sovereignty, agency, its own right to choose.

So….. books & story — written and spoken words dancing with and through overwhelming waves of primal energy, swirling movements, volcanic encounters between humans and the Wild.

But also this week, I’ve known many moment of deep Stillness. As T.S. Eliot has written:

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
 Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
 But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
 Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
 Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
 There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
 I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
 And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
 The inner freedom from the practical desire,
 The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
 And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
 By a grace of sense...."                      

This Stillness, too, is a doorway to the Wild — Becoming so still that the birds at the feeder ignore my gradual approach. And with the evening deer by the bridge, becoming so still that even my rather excitable & frequently vocal little dog, after one low growl, sat quietly my side while the deer noted our presence but did not startle, cautiously returning to their grazing, then slowly gliding into the band of trees by the creek. This Stillness is a good place — less flamboyant & exuberant than the worlds I glimpsed this week through language & Story, but just as Wild, just as far from the constricting and life-sapping beliefs of the prevailing colonial-consumerist-capitalist-technocratic culture that now dominates more & more of the human world.

My making this week has followed two similar, seemingly divergent paths. On the one hand, the quiet contemplation of various ways to felt a leaf; on the other, a return to a wild making I began and abandoned nearly a dozen years ago:

I’m curious about what energies I will encounter or bring into being next week, about how I will live more & more into the Wildness of this life.

P.S. When my son read my mention of Stillness in the blog this morning, he said it reminded him of something that happened when he was about 10 years old. And oh yes! It is a perfect example of Stillness! He and I were on a rafting trip in southern Utah. The other passengers were a family with two children about his age. When we stopped to camp, the other children spotted small lizards & began trying to catch them. My son just stood still and watched. He was very, very Still…. and soon a little lizard ran up his leg and sat quietly on his shoulder. I remember the lizard staying there for a long long time … but who can discern time in the midst of such Stillness? It was a timeless moment filled with Beauty. My son named the lizard Turquoise. And Turquoise has remained with us.

LIFE IN AN EXPANDING UNIVERSE by Pattiann Rogers.

"It's not only all those cosmic
 pinwheels with their charging solar
 luminosities, the way they spin around
 like the paper kind tacked to a tree trunk,
 the way they expel matter and light
 like fields of dandelions throwing off
 waves of summer sparks in the wind,
 the way they speed outward,
 receding, creating new distances
 simply by soaring into them.

 But it's also how the noisy
 crow enlarges the territory
 above the landscape at dawn, making
 new multiple canyon spires in the sky
 by the sharp towers and ledges
 of its calling; and how the bighorn
 expand the alpine meadow by repeating
 inside their watching eyes every foil
 of columbine and bell rue, all
 the stretches of sedges, the candescences
 of jagged slopes and crevices existing there.

 And though there isn't a method
 to measure it yet, by finding
 a golden-banded skipper on a buttonbush,
 by seeing a blue whiptail streak
 through desert scrub, by looking up
 one night and imagining the fleeing
 motions of stars themselves, I know
 my presence must swell one flutter-width
 wider, accelerate one lizard-slip farther,
 descend many stellar-fathoms deeper
 than it ever was before."

Beyond Adventure

Again and again I am amazed by the world’s beauty — this week, this day — and every week, every day.

Since I last wrote to you — Deer. Once 2 does & 3 fawns grazing just outside our backdoor. Another time, 7 or 8 deer grazing on a nearby hill. Wary of our presence, they moved back towards the woods — the does hurrying a bit with an air of concern but their fawns leaping & leaping, obviously delighting in the recently discovered magic of muscles, sinew and bones. And I, too, enchanted, delighted by their delight.

I put up 2 bird feeders behind the house & soon the birds began to come. First, one female hummingbird and then at least one other have become frequent visitors to the nectar. Then other feeder — chickadees, goldfinches, titmice, and some sort of sparrow-like bird with a lovely rusty-rose breast. More magic as they perch on the feeder & then flit off into the trees and out of my sight.

On Tuesday we had just begun to eat dinner in the communal courtyard when a welcome rainstorm sent us back inside. Just as we got up to go out afterwards, I saw sunlight slanting through from the west, washing the tops of the buildings with gold. Stepping through the door, we were astonished by a beautiful double rainbow. What a gift! The 4 of us just came to a standstill. Colors so strong & vibrant [unlike those in these photos]! We gawked and marveled at the magic. I felt drenched through and through by the liquid colors & light. I didn’t even think of putting a lens between my eye & such glory. Cris did take a picture, so I can share it with you. Let your imagination fill in the colors & light that the lens could not capture. When we’d walked home, I did want to take an image of the rainbow with The Tree, but by then the inner rainbow was fading & the outer one dimmed to a glimmer so faint that I would have missed it if I hadn’t known it was there.

But isn’t its very evanescence part of the magical beauty of a rainbow? Its appearance and disappearance as light & moisture & our perspectives change…

I love the way something can flicker in & out of the range of my senses — rainbows, leaping deer, birds alighting then gone in a moment. None of this beauty can be captured or contained. Like the big spiderweb that appeared one morning in the corner of our back porch: I was standing there, just loving The Tree and the woods (full of their own invisible-to-me treasures), when something flickered in the corner of my vision. I turned to see, but there was nothing…….until…..it came again….and again…and I finally spotted a big spiderweb billowing in & out as the morning air currents moved it. Invisible, visible, then gone again, then back in a different configuration of glints. I tried to take a picture but was defeated by the ephemeral nature of the interaction — which was exactly what had taken my breath away & held me immobile for a long time. Not just the web but the dance….

Hummingbird wings, dancing deer, a brief flash of silk, colors across the sky — Elusive but not illusory, something moving that cannot be captured — or, if captured, would become something else entirely — no longer wild, a bird in a cage. Who knows? Maybe that’s one of the characteristics that draws me towards Trickster.

So much to love….

And then, the last day or so, some fibers and my hands beginning to converse… For several weeks I’ve been dwelling with green wools & silks — looking, touching, knowing them to be perfect just as they are. My hands wanted to interact with them, but…. The loose swoops of green in so many shades seemed to call for the open-ended possibilities of felting. At the same time I knew that, after the chaos of the last month, my spirit longed for a safe container in which to rest, a form, a focus. I finally found a sort of compromise. I’ve submitted myself to the gentle limits imposed by loom and warp, but left the weft fibers free, combed but unspun, unbound fibers sliding deliciously through my fingers and through the warp. I’m enjoying both the lively give & take of the conversation and the comforting over/under rhythm, both a sense of freedom and the focus I’ve craved. After a long pause, stepping over the threshold into the Unknown…. It just makes me happy!

And last, but by no means least, I’d like to thank you all for reading these posts — for just being there and for so often enriching them with comments & reflections of your own. It is one thing to toss words off into the Unknown and yet another to hear that some have landed, have been heard. It seems that the true creativity resides neither in the making nor in the seeing/reading/listening, but in that indefinable interaction where the two meet.

As water flows in when a well is dug,
as breath becomes song when the flute is carved,
I lay my words in the nests you have made
of your patiently listening hearts.

Do you feel it?
Love is pecking from the inside out.
Shells are cracking open.
Look!  We all
are growing wings.  

                                                ~~~~ With gratitude, Margery

Pondering the Imponderable

I hope you’ve all taken time to read the beautiful Comments that were sent in response to last week’s post — all of us moving together, groping towards new understandings. Much to ponder…..

When I try to address the Imponderable, I inevitably call forth too many words. Perhaps this is a hangover from too much academic writing. Perhaps I am just trying to dodge the truth, to fill the sacred Silence that the Imponderable demands. You can, if you like, read on to hear my current ramblings — my turning round & round and flailing about like a person lost in the woods at night — or you can stop here with this simple poem by David Whyte, which says it all so beautifully:

"Enough. These few words are enough.
 If not these words, this breath.
 If not this breath, this sitting here.

 This opening to the life
 we have refused
 again and again until now.

 Until now."

*******

For a long time — no doubt because of situations both global & personal — I’ve been thinking about action, about how I might choose to step into the Unknown of any particular moment. First, by waking up & looking at where I am — where we are — actually standing at this particular moment, noticing both the amazing details and the larger patterns that sometimes seem to shift & change like a kaleidoscope…. Then, by taking that next step and once again pausing, noticing….

It’s all about Movement — the condition of the Cosmos, of Life.

The Unknown, like Life, should really be verb, not a noun. Modern English seems to act as a noun-based language — focusing on the separation of things rather than relationship, movement, interaction. Sometimes we need a new kind of language….

The Cosmos and all it encompasses are Emergent Processes — unfolding, interacting, evolving. The idea of an established “normal” — whether macro or micro — is a human illusion. We are part of continuous & multifaceted movements, whether we notice or not. When we try to grasp & cling to what has always seemed “normal” to us — with our limited, human-shaped sense of time — we are trying to fight the inevitable. If there is no change, there is no life.

I love the metaphor of the butterfly whose flapping wings create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Certainly, every time we move (and that includes just sitting & breathing), we change the world around us and — because we are inextricably woven into the whole — the world changes us too. For example, I am sitting by a campfire…I shift my position slightly…I inhale a lungful of dense smoke, and I begin to cough loudly which frightens a deer who runs onto the highway and …. We can spin out that story of the deer’s fright (as storytellers love to do) in directions which could lead to many different consequences — perhaps to owl’s failure to catch the rabbit he’d spotted, to the feeding of a hungry human family, or to a car crash that changes in the course of human civilization, or perhaps to nothing so directly noticeable. Whatever the case, there will be changes, spreading out through space & time in ways we’ll never fully know.

When I was young, I didn’t think a lot about “Adventure” or the Unknown;” I simply plunged in & thrived on them. I was privileged to spend high school summer volunteering on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana where I was introduced to both sharp poverty & rich cultural inheritance. A few years later, I was lucky to get a grant that let me spend a college summer studying baboons & simply learning to be present with the animals of the vast West African savanna, dwelling for awhile in a place beyond language. Then, after a heartbreaking rift of relationship (which I certainly did not experience as an “adventure”!), I took a trip — which coincided exactly with both my bank account & my vacation time — to the Central Sahara where I encountered for the first time many landscapes, peoples, ways of being, and the magical ancient galleries of rock painting high on the Tassili plateau. Having rediscovered the larger world, I looked for a job in Africa & ended teaching in Libya — arriving just before the revolution/coup that set up Gaddafi as dictator — and staying for 5 years. Many Adventures …. always changing, growing, learning — sometimes quickly, sometimes painfully, sometimes only in retrospect — through trial & error & often “dumb luck.”

In recent years I have been trying to approach personal changes in that same spirit of active curiosity. My mantras have been “It’s all an Adventure!” & a rather wry “All shall be revealed!” — meaning only that we’ll know what will happen next when the next thing happens. Our move to the farm & life with llamas was obviously an Adventure. I was sorry in many ways to have that come to a close so, when it was time to move to Greensboro & closer to hospitals and other help “just in case,” I told myself we were starting our “Urban Adventure.” Then, quick on the heels of that move, the 5-minute trip to a hospital ceased to be a hypothetical convenience & became central when I had cardiac surgery to repair a valve — a “Medical Adventure.” Now our move into a Quaker continuing care situation, about which I’ve been at times very conflicted, is proving to be a new kind of “Community Adventure” — filled with both “Not Knowing” (as described by Marti in her comment), which requires my focused research & specific learning AND also with “Unknowing,” which can only be known by plunging in. It is an Adventure!

But not all Adventures are — like most of those I’ve described — chosen. I’m thinking of hungry folks who walk through drought-stricken fields, of the streams of refugees around the world, of Ukrainians & Syrians & Palestinians & the many others whose lives are encompassed and upended by war…. How can they possibly view their daily scramble for existence as an “adventure”?

I know I am thinking of “Adventure” from a very privileged place.

Global climate change and other human actions are destroying and shifting the nature of beloved landscapes & species. Extreme authoritarian forces are threatening the democratic movements towards freedom and equality which I’ve witnessed — little by little — throughout my life & which I had expected would always keep moving — however slowly — more and more towards true justice. We find ourselves in the midst of dangerous changes on all fronts, deeply grieving the mayhem and destruction and fearing what may come.

I wonder if it is simply arrogant to try to view all this & what is still to come as “Adventure”?

How I wish there were a clearly marked path forward from Here to a truly better There! But as Antonio Machado cannot remind me often enough:

"Traveler, your footprints
 Are the path and nothing more;
 Traveler, there is no path,
 The path is made by walking.
 By walking the path is made
 And when you look back
 You’ll see a road
 Never to be trodden again.
 Traveler, there is no path,
 Only trails across the sea...."

If I am making my path — which is mine to choose — I’d better get started walking with more conscious awareness of each step & more openness to the Unknown, no matter how scary. How many times in the past have I let fears or ambivalence or sorrow bring me to a screaming halt?! In stepping out into the role of workshop & retreat leader and especially in starting this blog, I’ve become aware of how much growth can be found & how very much stifled and bound energy can be liberated with just another step into the Unknown.

*******

I’ve just started reading Estelle Frankel’s book The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty. In the Introduction, she says:

“Without what I call the ‘wisdom of not knowing,’ it is difficult to leave the safe harbor of the known for the vast, unpredictable sea of growth and change. Certainty may calm our anxious spirits, but it closes the door on possibility. Moreover, when the known overshadows the unknown, we forsake our infinite life for a counterfeit, finite existence.

(emphasis added)

*******

So what kind of existence do I choose? What might happen if, when contemplating global situations, I spent less energy on fear & lamentation and more on living/participating fully in the world as it is in its actual becomings, however painful? If I name what is happening not as Doom but as Adventure, can I free up more energy to heal wounds & mitigate the damage inflicted by myself & others? Can I learn how to be a blessing that enlivens the situations & beings I meet rather than a force that destroys?

What if, rather than hoping for a magic silver bullet to “fix” things, more of us found our Hope in the possibilities that reside within the Unknown? In any case, my Curiosity keeps me plodding ahead, asking questions, looking around to find out what might be. The Changes we’ve feared have already begun. How then shall we live in a good way?

*******

I believe I’ve shared this poem with you before, but it speaks to much of what I’ve been struggling to say:

Another World is Possible

by Rose Flint

We can dream it in, with our eyes
Open to this Beauty, to all
That Earth gives each of us, each day
Those miracles of dark and light–
Rainlight, dawn, sun moon, snow, storm grey
And the wide fields of night always
Somewhere opening their flower
stars – this, this! Another world is

possible. With river and bird
Sweet and free without fear, without
minds blind to harmony, to how
We can hold. We have been too long
Spoiled greedy children of Earth, life of rocks and creatures
Slipping out of our careless hands.
We must stand now and learn to love
As a Mother loves her child, each
cell of her, each grain of her, each
precious heartbeat of her that is
Ourselves, our path and our journey
Into our dream of future, where
another world is possible
cradling this one its arms.

*******

And, in my studio, I’m still hanging out with Green, and more Green — pausing to see where I am and what is here before taking that next great step into the Unknown. I am grateful for the Green & Healing Spirits of Willow who companion me.

Unknowing

The Unknown…. Yesterday I was sitting here, looking at a blank computer screen. I could have thought of that empty whiteness (as I so often do) as Threatening or Intimidating: What if I say something that everyone thinks is stupid or wrong? Or — horror of horrors! — what if I find I have nothing to say? But the blank screen is, at the same time, an alluring Invitation: A sort of muse offering me a space in which I can experiment, try to find words for the ineffable, discover what wants to come to the surface, explore possibilities. And, for me, it’s actually a fairly safe space. Unlike many authors past & present — May Salman Rushdie soon recover! — I doubt I’ll be jailed or attacked for anything I write on this tiny blog. More than that, I trust that when I do say something stupid or unclear (and of course there are those times!) , my readers will question it & call it to my attention so that I can explore more carefully both my thoughts & my words. It is mine to choose whether I see the blank screen (…or an overgrown lot or an untrained horse or whatever….) as something to Fear or as an opportunity to Learn.

So I pressed that first key and began the adventure….And adventure it has been! I wrote & wrote about Change & the Unknown. But, as someone once said, “How do I know what I mean until I see what I say?” When I read what I’d written, I discovered that my words were showing me some things about the world and about myself that I needed to ponder more deeply…. That post-that-would-have-been is gift from the Unknown that may –who knows? — lead me to new thoughts, new ways of being/becoming.

I’ll keep thinking about Change & moving into the Unknown. I hope you will, too, because stepping into the Unknown is exactly what we’re doing at every moment, whether we notice or not…..

I wish there were a clearly marked path ahead, but as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado reminds us:

"Traveler, your footprints
 Are the path and nothing more;
 Traveler, there is no path,
 The path is made by walking.
 By walking the path is made,
 And when you look back
 You’ll see a road
 Never to be trodden again.
 Traveler, there is no path,
 Only trails across the sea...."

If you’d like to share your comments & thoughts on this topic, please do. I’d be grateful for more perspectives than my own.

Well, in any case, this computer screen is not longer blank & I’ll see what happens. For the next hour or so I’ll step into to another small corner of Unknown:

This week

This week has been crazy. Even my dreams have wild, sticking with me through the day. Still, the first day in this new home we were greeted by a gaggle of Canada geese marching down the street in front of our house & a dazzle of huge dragonflies flying back and forth behind the house. Two groundhogs were grazing in the grassy space down the slope, one or the other often sitting erect to check out the situation.

The Layers
By Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives, some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz, "The Layers" from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz.  Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Source: The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002)

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Packing

Finisterre
by David Whyte 

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

from David Whyte’s collection, Pilgrim
©2012 Many Rivers Press
Posted [by https://gratefulness.org ] with kind permission from the poet

I have long loved this poem, which fortuitously appeared in my inbox this morning. But apparently Cris & I have not yet reached that edge:

we are still packing…..

The Return of the Salmon

Last week when I wrote about transformation, I think I forgot to point out that Salmon themselves are great Transformers. As their life circles around, they start as eggs which become freshwater fish in rivers, then transform themselves into travelers journeying downriver to the vast ocean, and next into adult saltwater fish. These are not trivial changes. And when the time comes, they change again as they journey back upriver to the place of their birth, where they breed and lay their eggs. There they die and begin their transformation in many different forms — human, bear, eagle, young plants, the Forest that protects their river. In their journeying, salmon carry bountiful gifts in their bodies. They bring themselves as food for the ocean’s web of life and then, in their return, food for life on land. And to the land it is not only the obvious gift of their own flesh that they bring, but also the ocean’s gifts of missing salts and minerals needed to sustain the living forest community. The salmon’s many changes are special glistening threads woven in & out through the warp of Earth’s community, helping connect and thus create the boundless tapestry of life.

No wonder Salmon are celebrated in myth & story wherever they are found — beloved & admired not only for their beauty, their strength & their generosity, but for so much more. The ancient Celts, for example, told of the salmon who dwelt in the Well of Wisdom and acquired all knowledge of the worlds when he ate nine hazelnuts that fell from the surrounding hazel trees. Whoever should eat the first taste of the Salmon of Knowledge would receive that knowledge and wisdom……..which, of course, led on to more wonderful, expansive myths and tales of adventure and change.

I was so happy, this week, to come across a salmon tale still being formed in our present time, written down by Marc Dadigan .

The first paragraph begins “Thousands of relatives of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe arrived at the McCloud River floating inside a little orange cooler earlier this week.” And those relatives were the “20,000 fertilized endangered winter-run Chinook salmon eggs which were about to return to an old home on the McCloud River, the Tribe’s ancestral watershed.” The preceding chapter of this story, leading up to the salmon’s return, includes both years & years of difficult negotiations and the steadfast spirit of the Winnemem Wintu people. “According to the Tribe’s genesis story, salmon gave its voice so human could speak and in return Winnemem Wintu people promised to always speak for them.” As the Tribe’s song captain Helene Sisk, “We’re always going to stand up for salmon, because they stood up for us.”

Salmon lives, unable to find appropriate breeding grounds below the dam that cut short their journey 80 years ago are returning to the upper river that had been barren and lonely for too long. The salmon were greeted & celebrated by strong ceremony, just as it should be. “We’re praying,” the people said, “that they remember these waters.”

The people native to this place refused to let the building of the dam be the end of the salmon’s story. The event described in the article is just the beginning of a new story with much more to unfold as the Winnenmem Wintu people continue to speak out for their relatives, the salmon.

So, on-going change & transformation……. Please read the article which includes much rich detail & photos. https://shastascout.org/were-praying-that-they-remember-these-waters-supported-by-tribal-ceremony-salmon-eggs-return-to-the-mccloud-river-after-80-year-absence/

*******

I’ve been spending time — full of learning & not without frustration — trying to discern a context for The Keeper of Rivers. Just in the contemplation of colors & forms, I have deepened my empathy for rivers and for the many ways of their being & the many different spirits they gather.

Thinking of rivers reminded me of the message that came from the Hopi people after 9/11/2001. It uses the River as it speaks about the flow of changes we are all experiencing:

  “You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.
And there are things to be considered...
Where are you living? What are you doing? 
What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? 
Where is your water? Know your garden.
It is time for you to speak your Truth. 
Create your community.
Be good to each other.”

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, 
“This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. 
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, 
push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate!
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. 
Least of all ourselves. 
For the moment that we do,
our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word “struggle” from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done 
in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!’”

I finally felted this this piece yesterday & found (as I always do) that the wools & silks have been transformed by the process. A few surprises….

This still doesn’t feel finished, so I haven’t sewn on the mask yet. There may — or may not — still be some flowing and changing needed. I’ll pause and listen to the rivers’ songs.

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P.S. Since I was late posting this blog — running slowly & wobbly this past week — I shared this beautiful & wise poem at the regular 5 a.m. time for any first-day readers. I include it here so you all can enjoy it.

The Way It Is  by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

"Over and over we break
 open, we break and
 we break and we open.
 For a while, we try to fix
 the vessel--as if
 to be broken is bad.
 As if with glue and tape
 and a steady hand we
 might bring things to perfect
 again. As if they were ever
 perfect. As if to be broken is not
 also perfect. As if to be open 
 is not the path toward joy.

 The vase that's been shattered 
 and cracked will never
 hold water. Eventually
 it will leak. And at some
 point, perhaps, we decide
 that we're done with picking
 our flowers anyway, and no
 longer need a place to contain them.
 We watch them grow just
 as wildflowers do--unfenced,
 unmanaged, blossoming only
 when they're ready-- and mygod,
 how beautiful they are amidst
 the mounting pile of shards."

Sending you all love as we float or swim in the rivers of change —-