War, Peace, Story, Language, Art

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.

On February 18 & 24, the CBC (Canadian public radio) spoke with the poet Lyuba Yakimchuk (still in Kyiv) and with the Ukrainian-American poet and scholar Oksana Maksymchuk & her husband, Max Rosochinsky, who have translated Yakimchuk’s poetry. You can hear the broadcast & read an accompanying summary at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/ukrainian-poet-lyuba-yakimchuk-reflects-on-war-and-the-burden-of-a-motherland-1.6364864

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:

prayer

"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
     just decomposition
    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
           new pride.
       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
     Lechayim! Lechayim!
                            To Life!"

…..

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:

“Angel of Peace for Ukraine XII,” 2015 – Olesya Hudyma
https://www.olesyahudyma.com

[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.

The Land Speaks in Swans….

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.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

photo from Pixnio

Festivals of Light

Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) at Solstice

Winter Solstice — the shortest day & longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, the turn of the Earth towards lengthening days — occurred last Tuesday. Since earliest times, humans all over the world have noticed, felt, and expressed the significance of the shifts in light at both the solstices and equinoxes. For the most part, we can only guess at the earliest myths and rituals associated with these points in the dance of Sun & Earth. Fortunately, at least since Neolithic times, people in a number of places around the globe have built both simple and more elaborate & labor-intensive places to mark the movement of the life-giving Sun.

One of the oldest and most well-known of these sites is Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne) in Ireland, the mythic home of The Dagda (god of Wisdom & Fertility) and his son Aenghus (the god of Love & Dreams). Built ca. 5200 years ago, this massive Neolithic complex of underground passages and chambers, whose stone walls are covered with intricate carvings, was constructed so that only at the Solstice would a ray of sunlight, falling through an opening above the entrance, penetrate all the way through the darkness to light the main chamber. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be deep inside the dark and to watch the light coming in to meet you?

Today, as always, many of us continue to celebrate, in both story and ritual, the return of the Light and retreat of the Dark, whether understood literally or metaphorically — expressing our joy at this cosmic turning through festivals of light such as Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and many other spiritual practices, both old & new. And, everywhere, a symbol for this turning towards a positive Mystery is the Candle. So I’ve been thinking about candles.

At this time, we in the northern hemisphere can count on the lengthening of days, the literal increase in life-giving sunlight. But, in so many ways & on so many levels, Earth and her community (including humans) are going through some metaphorically dark times. I won’t enumerate the many dire challenges we face. You all know them. But the question is: How can we each help facilitate a turning away from destruction and into a place of light, joy, peace?

Have you ever attended a gathering of people standing in the dark, each holding an unlit candle? There are no words to capture the awe that begins as one candle is lit. And the awe expands as the first candle lights another candle & each of those light others & on and on, spreading the illumination outward until every single candle burns with its own lively dancing flame.

Is it possible to do something similar with our own inner light?

The poet Rumi reminds us:

"Being a candle 
Is not easy.
In order to give
light one must
first burn."

I ask myself, Am I willing to light my candle? What will it take? And how can I pass along its loving flame?

One candle is a small thing.

But many, gathered together, can illuminate the world!

Wishing you all peace and joy — now & always…..

Photo credits: Irish Examiner, Geralt, Myriams-Fotos, Mike Labrum

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Turning

Now the earth slides faster down
the long dark days towards Solstice.
We’ve been flung
almost too far from the center,
skidding violently along
the curve of space.
The pace
presses me flat against the rocks,
among the dried debris of summer.
Blackberry canes snarl my hair;
faded petals or leaves,
compressed beyond recognition,
cling to my lips and eyes.
Oh, it’s a long slide
down to the Solstice.
But we 
      shall be
tugged sunward at last on gravity’s leash:
     a cosmic 
                     crack-the-whip.
We’ll hit the corner flying
and careen round into who knows
what great wind of passage.
Even I
may be blown clear out of this cave, clean
onto my feet.
Lifting my arms to
layer upon layer of translucent
color cupped to Earth’s curve,
I’ll feel the thrust of the planet
beneath my feet.
Gulping air straight
from Arctic floes,
I’ll raise my face to
the icy stab of Orion’s sword and
roar
              for Joy.

Saunter & Gawk

Eighteen years ago I was fortunate to take a life-changing course entitled “The New Cosmology,” taught by Dr. Larry Edwards. It was a week-long intensive class with lots of reading & a paper before the gathering and more reading & a longer paper due a month afterwards. We looked briefly at the origin stories told not only by our Western cultures but also by other cultures around the wold, and considered how different origin stories were both creators of & products of the cultures in which they were found. We looked at the current scientific explanations/stories of cosmic evolution, Earth’s evolution, the evolution of Life, and finally — within the context of these larger patterns — human evolution. We considered the ways that the various species of plants and animals in an ecosystem help shape each other’s evolution, creating distinct traits and skills that interlock. And the human? What is our special trait? Perhaps, Dr. Edwards suggested, it is our ability to become fascinated by what we encounter, to wonder, to simply stop & gawk. One of my classmates added the word “saunter.” That’s it we decided: What makes us human is not simply our physiology or our technical achievements — it is our delight in sauntering & gawking — and then making up stories (whether scientific explanations or extended reflections) about what we’ve encountered.

“Saunter & Gawk!” That pretty much sums up my life this past week. Even in my fiber work, I’ve been doing a sort of saunter-and-gawk as I spend time in the company of some poorly-prepared llama and angora rabbit fibers — trying to understand the nature and “desires” of these tangled fibers. I’ve also been sauntering & gawking with delight in the natural world that surrounds me here and in the written world of ideas & discoveries & the records of unique personal experiences.

A brief question from my brother about a current forest fire here in North Carolina led to questions of geology, and I began saunter (and/or stumble) through information about the geology of this place in which I now find myself living. So much to learn! Much of what I encountered was beyond my comprehension, but I did stop to gawk at some wonderful surprises. I’d sort of assumed that the Piedmont where I live was mostly a result of the erosion of the Appalachian Mountains to the west. Who’d have guessed that this place was — before that — a chain of volcanic islands that were eventually squished between colliding tectonic plates?! Somehow seeing that deeper story of the land upon which I walk daily delights me and makes me feel more at home here.

Yesterday I came across an essay by David Abram which affirms our class’s “saunter-and-gawk” hypothesis. https://www.humansandnature.org/on-being-human-in-a-more-than-human-world In it, Abram begins by sharing the question that was inevitably asked every time he spoke about the human place in Earth ecology:

‘Alright, Dr. Abram, I understand when you say that we humans are completely embedded within a more-than-human world, and I understand your claim that many other animals, plants, and landforms are at least as necessary as humans are to the ongoing flourishing of the biosphere. But despite the attention and praise that you bestow upon other species, surely you must admit that humankind is something utterly unique in the earthly world?’

After musing about that question and his responses over the years, Abram goes on to say:

And after puzzling and pondering the matter, over and again, sussing out the signature traits of our species, I began to feel my way toward a fresh answer, one that rang true to me even as it seemed to satisfy my challengers—or at least to give them pause.

For if there’s something exceptional about us two-leggeds, it seems to reside in our ability to become interested in—even fascinated by—well, pretty much anything. Diverse other creatures, as I watch them go about their days, seem to stay fairly focused on a range of matters that concern their own well-being, indulging in other whims and curiosities now and then, but rarely ranging very far afield, with their sustained attention, from the sort of things that seem to grab others of their kind. But we humans have a peculiar proclivity to become fascinated and enthralled by the most incommensurable matters. Among even my close friends, there’s a person who closely studies the antler patterns of moose, another whose hobby involves documenting the life cycle of various lichens, and another whose expertise lies in throwing and baking the perfect Neapolitan pizza. That same baker is also a fine gardener who spends much of her week wooing various butterflies down from the skies to alight on the plants that she’s carefully cultivated for their delectation. There are people who steep themselves in the long-dead languages of lost cultures, and others who listen in on and try to decipher the long-distance utterances of humpback whales. Still others decline to consider those calls as linguistic, but concentrate their talents on playing music with whale songs….

So perhaps there is, indeed, something uniquely unique about our species. Yet we defy this uniqueness when we strive to assert what is most unique about humankind. Whenever we focus so exclusively upon ourselves, training our attention day after day upon the specialness of our species, then we are no longer enacting the very trait that most exemplifies our humanity. ”

Finally, Abrams — after contemplating the linguistic relationships among the words ‘human’ & ‘humus’ & ‘humility’ — counsels humans to remember their intrinsic interdependence with the larger community of other earth-beings and to act, therefore, with appropriate humility.

As I’ve been thinking about saunter-and-gawk, I’ve come round once again to Trickster, for that is what Trickster loves to do — to ramble along, to see something & to get curious about it. But then, thinking only of himself and his desires, Trickster stops looking and just jumps into the situation head first — only to find himself, time and again, in dreadful trouble. Humility is not to be found in Trickster’s vocabulary or in his actions!

Can there by any doubt about what message Trickster stories have for us these days?

*************

We are humans. Who are we?

We are listeners, listening to the song of the Land.
And we are one of the many voices to which the Land listens.
We are spinners, spinning wild fleece into Meaning.
And we are the fleece being spun into Meaning by others.
We are weavers, weaving radiant colors into Story.
And we are the colors, being woven into others’ Stories.
We are children standing in awe of Cosmic beauty.
And we are the Cosmos reflecting on Itself.
And when we sing praise songs, sing songs of gratitude,
Then we become a part of the Song.
photo by Noah Buscher
photo by Casey Horner

To Be Remembered in the Darkness

The last month or so have been, for me, a difficult convergence of multiple medical issues and my on-going grief for so much ecological, cultural, social & political devastation. I know that Trickster loves stirring things up to make room for new possibilities but — once nightly insomnia joined my list of playmates in the downward spiral — I ran out of energy for the dance. I am fortunate to be one of those privileged few in the world with access to good medical care — so medical problems are being addressed and, as insomnia begins to fade away, I am once more alive to my self and to the world. Still, there is my grief at what I & my kind have destroyed & are still destroying.

A conversation several days ago reminded me of several poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows). In many of his works, Rilke writes beautifully of the embrace of darkness. Today, I want to share 3 of them. [Actually I’d like to share a dozen, but I’m becoming a “realist”…..]:

“You, darkness, of whom I am born —

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But darkness embraces everything:

shapes and shadows, creatures and me,

people, nations — just as they are.

It lets me imagine a great presence is moving near me.

I believe in the night.”

~~~~~~

“How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing —
each stone, blossom, child —
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we must begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.”

~~~~~

“Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.”

~~~~~~

On the fiber front, I finally had enough energy to play a bit in the studio yesterday — making various small felt samples to try out different textures. I came up with some I liked & with many more ideas to try before making decisions. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get a good photo of black on black felt. [And no, the color has nothing to do with my past few weeks! It is more a case of rebirth & growth as I once again work on a Raven shawl I’d woven 15 years ago & pushed to the back of the closet — given up as “hopeless.”] I’ll keep playing & hope to have the shawl completed to show you soon.

In his poem “East Coker,” T.S. Eliot wrote:

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

It Begins With A Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What one fears one destroys.

          -- Chief Dan George, My Heart Soars

Excuses…

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

I CANNOT WRITE THIS POEM BECAUSE...

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

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

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

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

–Robert Bringhurst

There is a Thread…..

2 postscripts to last week’s blog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Barry Lopez

Seeking the Form, Following the Thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the muse of form.

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

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


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

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

It is easy to get lost.

Fortunately, as William Stafford assures us:

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

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