Transgression, Possibility, and New Beginnings

April 1st — Happy April Fool’s Day!

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….

“Always we begin again….”

Benedict of Nursia


I have had trouble getting started on this week’s post. Having recently extolled the virtue of Story as Healer, it seemed only right that I present a balanced view — warning about the Dangers of Story. [Though all of you who read the current headlines about conspiracy theories, Big Lies, etc. have probably already figured out how much damage can be done by manipulating story.]

But then — to be logical — maybe I should first talk about the source of Story’s power….. Why does Story make a difference in the world? And how? And I suddenly realized that I was trying to turn what had started out as an exuberant posting of random thoughts into some sort of coherent Pedagogical Treatise. I could hear my old inner “Recovering-Academic” butting in with his loud authoritative voice: “And just to be safe, remember to include narrow definitions, and counter-arguments, and documentation, and explanatory footnotes, and….”

Hmm…. That’s just the kind of default thought process whose tentacles I am, in the midst of my 8th decade, trying to escape, to outgrow. I can hear Trickster standing behind me, snickering, “Some folks never learn!” And I find myself turning and shouting back in my ugliest playground voice, “Look who’s talking! Takes one to know one!” ….And after that, what’s left to do, but laugh at myself!

Neitzsche reminds us:

"You must have chaos within you 
 to give birth to a dancing star." 

To be honest, I have never found chaos to be out of reach. Maybe that’s why Trickster likes to hang out with me.

My computer is in even greater disarray than my hopelessly heaped desk and overflowing book shelves. I’m still trying intermittently to figure out “files” and “folds” and create some sort of order. Several months ago, my screen began to cover itself with little thumbnails images of random documents, new ones popping up occasionally like mushrooms in the damp autumn woods. This morning I happened to notice one of the stray toadstools peering out from behind a screenful of world news. “Coyote Howls” it announced in miniature print. Coyote, of course, shows up in many of my titles but this one seemed unfamiliar so I double-clicked.

It turned out to be a “free-writing exercise” from a workshop I’d taken 7 or so years ago while we still lived in the woods. In “free-writing,” one is given a prompt [this one must have been “Coyote Howled”] and told to write for a designated amount of time [I don’t remember how long the facilitator gave us] without stopping our pencil or pausing to plan. Just let words flow…. It’s always fun to see what emerges.

So, Hooray! Back to exuberance! ….at least for this moment….


Coyotes howled on the ridge again last night — Their songs lifting and flaming out in colors that my language cannot name.  How do I express my own coyote joy in this world?

Coyote dances just out of reach, just beyond the edge of my vision.  I try to follow his steps and stumble.  

Somewhere beyond the horizon I hear him laughing.  

“It took me a thousand thousand years to discern my dance,” he howls.  “First you must dance your own dance.  Then we can dance together.”

My dance is made of words dropped like stones in a river — sometimes too slippery for firm footing.  If I fear falling, I will stay out of the cool waters, play on the safe sandy shore.

Sometimes just one rock can change the river’s course or change the note of its song.

“This is how I play,” says Coyote tossing a stick to catch it again, then dropping it to sniff some scat.  “How do you play?” he asks.

As a child I did not hesitate to engage with river and rocks, did not fear that the pebbles I piled up in the waters might wash away or ruin the river.  Tadpoles came to nibble my fingers and a crawdad scuttled away across the silty creek bottom.  My wrists and ankles cooled on hot August afternoons.  My fingers and tee shirt were splashed and striped and smeared with holy mud.

The blessing of water.  In Loveland CO, my friend Pam is not allowed to put out a rain-barrel to catch bounty for her garden.  The rain belongs to the river and the river belongs to the men with papers to prove their ownership of water monitored, divided, sold to the highest bidder.

“Owning” water — oxymoron.  Surely it is not the humans…!

And who owns the stories?  Who owns the words?

What water police patrol my desk to keep me from writing?

I will put out a rain barrel and listen as it fills with mercy and kindness like gentle rain.  I will hear the plunk of downpour and watch the great crackling electricity riding the clouds.

I will cup my fevered hands and reach in to take a drink, feeling the water splash down my chin, fill my mouth, cool my scratchy throat, join the pulse of my blood.

I will invite the neighbors.  I will carry a jug of water to the old old woman who sits among her bundles in the empty doorway.

I shall learn to share my words as joyfully as Coyote shares his song.

Then I’ll go dancing.

P.S. I’m posting every Friday. I hope you are finding something to enjoy in the posts and lots to keep you curious & full of wonder at the amazing world of which we are a part.

Trickster in the Skull

“There are ways in which stories create themselves, bring themselves into being, for their own inscrutable reasons, one of which is to laugh at humanity’s attempt to hide from its own clay. …[S]tories choose us to bring them into being for the profound needs of humankind. We do not choose them.

~~~ Ben Okri, A Way of Being Free

"May a good vision catch me
 May a benevolent vision take hold of me, and move me
 May a deep and full vision come over me, and burst open around me
 May a luminous vision inform me, enfold me.
 May I awaken into the story that surrounds,
 May I awaken into the beautiful story.
 May the wondrous story find me;
 May the wildness that make beauty arise between two lovers,
 between my flesh and the flesh of the this earth,
 here and now,
 on this day,
 May I taste something sacred."

                              David Abram,
I received this copy of Winter-Telling Stories on my 5th birthday, an early introduction to Trickster. In the lower right, you can see the Kiowa Trickster (Saynday) trapped in the buffalo skull.

~~~ The following is based on a Kiowa story collected by Alice Marriott (Winter-Telling Stories, William Sloane Associates, Inc, NY, 1947) & a Winnebago story collected by Paul Radin (The Trickster, Schocken Books, NY, 1956). ~~~

That one was coming along, and as he came, he heard a drumming sound. “My,” he said to himself, “I wonder where that drumming is coming from?” And as he walked, he looked around to see if there was a village nearby, but there was no village. And he looked up to see if it was thunder, but there was not a cloud in the sky. That drumming sound seemed to be coming from down near the earth. “What can that be?” he wondered. “Well, whatever it is, I’m going to find out.”

That one walked on and on, and the drumming became louder and louder. On the ground, he saw the scattered bones of some large animal, bleached white by years in the sun. “Oh,” he said, “That’s too bad. No meat at all left for me to gnaw.” And he stepped among the bones, crushing some the little ones under his feet. On he walked until, suddenly, he saw a skull lying on the ground. And the drumming was coming from inside the skull! In fact, the drumming was so loud it shook the skull until that skull seemed to bounce along the ground like a living thing.

“Well,” that one said to himself, “That’s some powerful medicine.” And he bent down and peered in through the eye socket.

Inside there were ants — a whole tribe of little red ants — and the drummers were drumming and the singers were singing, and he could see that they were having a sacred sun dance.

When the ants saw his big yellow eye peering in, two of the elders came over to that eye socket and asked, “What do you want?”

“Oh,” said that one, “You are doing such important things. You are thanking the Earth. You are making things better. I want to help, too. How can I come in?”

“Go in through the neck,” they replied. “That’s how we do it.”

And that one went around to the neck hole, but it was too small.

“Help! Help!” he cried. “The neck is too small for me to come in.”

The elders turned around. They spoke to that one. “Well,” they said, “Say to the neck-hole “Become large” and it will get big enough for you to enter. That is how we do it.”

And that’s exactly what that one did. “Become large!” he ordered. And the hole opened up, and he stuck in his head and looked around. And he heard the ants drumming their sacred songs and singing their sacred songs. And he saw the ants dancing their sacred dance. It was amazing. And he just sighed a big sigh of amazement.

And that sigh blew all the ants, and all their drums, and all their regalia and fragrant sage and sacred pole right out along the skull’s jaw where the tongue used to be, right out through the skull’s teeth where it used to gnash and chew, right out into the deepening dusk and gone.

And the neck-hole clamped back, tight around that one’s neck.
“Become large!” that one ordered. But the skull kept its grip.

“Let go! Let go!” he cried. But the skull stayed tight.

And that one’s eyes did not match the eye sockets of the skull. He could not see. And he stumbled about on the rough, rough ground — bumping into thorny bushes, twisting his ankle on loose stones — stumbling, tumbling here and there.

That skull stayed right on his head. The one inside couldn’t eat; he couldn’t drink. He promised this and he promised that, but still that old skull wouldn’t budge.

And so it was. I followed Trickster right into that empty skull. I stuck my head where it didn’t belong, into other people’s stories, into other people’s ways, into thoughts too big for words. And all my researching and cogitating and theorizing and long-winded explaining about Trickster got me nowhere. So here I am, like Trickster in the skull, heavy-headed, blind, lost, and weary.

I know the stories. In Marriott’s Kiowa story– rewritten for children — Trickster feels his way from tree to tree until he falls in the river and floats home to his village, where his neighbors pry off the skull and set him free. In Radin’s Winnebago tale, the trapped Trickster pretends to be Elk Spirit and convinces passers-by to bring him lavish offerings and then to look for good medicine inside the skull, setting him free in the process. And though Trickster kept their gifts, though he laughed uproariously, that one did at least keep his promise:

“‘For whatsoever be purpose for which you use this head, that purpose will be accomplished.’ So then they made themselves various medicinal instruments and afterwards found that they were efficacious. Then Trickster left and continued wandering.” [Radin, p.35]

And me? Neither family nor friends can seem to liberate me from the Trickster obsession that holds me as fast as any magic skull. And I doubt that I could, like the Winnabago Trickster, convince any hapless bystanders that I am an Elk Spirit to whom they should bring rich offerings –”red feathers, white deer skin, and red-yarn belts…in great quantities”. [Radin, p.34] Still, like Winnebago Trickster, I can promise that there is efficacious medicine available in here, just waiting to be shared. Maybe I can find another way through my dilemma. Maybe I can shape-shift the story’s ending just a little….


And after a long long time, after that one was black and blue from all his falling and faint with hunger and thirst, after he had begun to feel his life draining away, after he had begun to feel his own skull as worn out as that dried-up old one in which he was stuck, he panted to the skull that held him captive, “If you let me go, I’ll tell you a story.” And though –to start with– the skull stayed tight as ever around that one’s neck, slowly – as it listened – its jaws began relax. First, that one could see a little light between the teeth. Then, that one could smell fresh air. Then, that one could take in a little sip of water. And so the Story began……

What good story has been following you around lately — asking to be told, asking to be lived?