Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Smell of Buckskin & the Lay of the Elk Lined Land

Please forgive my absence here. It has proved harder than I imagined to keep up a 3 post a week regiment (why I did not think this would be difficult I cannot tell you, except that I have a large writing appetite and always bite off more than I can quite chew, out of sheer excitement, love for words, and for the magic of this world!) My Juniper Way is perhaps, I realize, better served in a fluid and un-regimented fashion, in the daily practice of my life but not always here. I'm sure many of you walk (while juggling, it sometimes feels) this strange path with the internet—how to use it as a tool, as a resource, as a rich web of interconnection, sharing, exchange, without letting it seep too far into your daily life. I do not like the feeling that the experiences I have are lived with a blog post in mind. This does not sit well with me, however successful a model it may be for others. I realize I need these sharings to be spontaneous, to be fluid. So while you will be reading about Hearth and Hands, my notes from the Wild Folk, my patchworks of inspiration, and scraps about Elk Lines and other projects, it will be in my more usual ambling rambling fashion, a few threads taken from here and there. Wily bird's nests, these posts often turn out to be, lined with elk fur but made of spiderweb and lichen and dryer lint all. This works better for me I think, and perhaps for all you dear readers too. It's more like ecology, less like a path of stepping stones.


So, that said, I want to write here about the smell of buckskin, all smoke and animal in one. I want to write about how it is the same color as the summergold land, and the fur of the tule elk out in the hills, and how under my hands, the awl and the buckskin feel like a homecoming. This past weekend, I learned to make simple sandals (above!) and to work with leather, specifically buckskin (deer hide tanned front and back with brains and then cured over a woodfire)*, with a group of women out in the hills of Sonoma County. We gather once a month, learning wild skills, rolling fire with handdrills of elderberry wood to cook our food, talking around the fire into the dark about what it means to be a woman today, what it means to be empowered by our monthly cycles, what it means to feel rooted and competent and connected out on the land. It is good and challenging and nourishing on many levels.

This time, we did not tan the buckskin (it takes longer than two days), but I was fortunate to get to use a beautiful little piece, tanned by our teacher's son when he was six (!) to sew a small bag. And I was seduced, utterly and completely. The smoked smell, sweet and resinous both, the buttery feeling of the skin under my fingers, the precision and strength of the piercing awl, the tightening stitches. Two moons ago, we processed a goat and tanned rabbit skins, and a longing as old as these bones, as old, I would wager, as the human spirit, filled me this time as I stitched, to learn the process of tanning buckskin. We've danced a dance as old as time with the deer and the elk of this planet, the dance of the hunt, but also a dance of great reverence, and it feels to me that the processing of a skin (which at this point in my life I would only ever procure from an animal killed on the roadside) can be an act of worship and gratitude. For we should not forget that our very first clothing items as a species came from the bodies of animals, and that like it or not, we are tied to them in a dance of life-death-life. I would go so far as to argue, as Paul Shepard does, that animals have shaped who we are in every possible way, that they are our elders and our guides, and should be worshipped as we now worship God, or the Machine, or the Economy, or Technology. But that is a story for another day.

Paul Shepard writes (from his book The Others: How Animals Made Us Human)

Death is a tender subject, with its imagined pain and terror, vistas of roaring carnivores killing beautiful deer and lions raging among themselves over bloody bones. images of predation as the power of the strongest confuse our monkey politics and its endless skirmishing for power with food chains in ecology, making the false analogy of nature to violence and war. [...] The grass eaten by the buffalo and the flesh of the buffalo eaten by the wolf we imagine as taken by force. But the milk, grass, [...] buffalo [...] and wolf, transmit something more important than themselves. In the ethos of the ancient conjunction of "to prey on" and "to pray to," the hunt is not a seizure but a voluntary immolation. Hunters preserve the lore of wild things who oversee the ethics of their own transformation into food, observe atonements, and return again and again (37). 

Out on the buckskin colored hills of Tomales Point, the bull tule elk are gathering great lekking groups (or harems) of females that they will keep at their sides until winter. Here: the sun, the fog, the grass, the bodies of elk, the mountain lions who (very occasionally!) pick off a young calf. The antlers that fall and provide minerals to the mice and rabbits. The bodies that decompose again into the earth, buckskin gold through the summertime drought. Sun-grass-elk-mountain lion: the great wheel, turning, and somehow the act of sitting, watching, pressing fingerprints to an elk hoof print, reading their movements through track and sign, feels like a way back in again, back into the wheel. As does the working of buckskin between finger and palm, and what it means to hold the life of an animal in your hands—what an ancient responsibility, and worship.  You must not forget to sing and to dance in return. 

The bull elk in the centers of the lekking groups are the very strongest of all, the ones who've fought off all the other bulls (for the time being). They bugle often into the fog, perhaps asserting their territory. The sound is haunting and high, like a child's cry or a hunting bird. For the autumn season, they control and protect these great herds of females, and make love to all of them. This can be very exhausting work, apparently, because the strong elk surrounded by lekking groups are often the first dead come winter—the act of courting so many women and constantly fighting off other males totally drains their strength! 

I sat for a while one day a few weeks ago, in the midst of writing the most recent Elk Lines chapter, watching the male and female elk interact. For the rest of the year, the females live in big groups together, led by the oldest and wisest among them. I wonder how they feel about these young bulls who chase them around and herd them up and down hills, often with displays of aggression. Some seemed perfectly pleased with the situation while others, I noted, often ignored the bull until the very last minute, when the rest of the herd was halfway up the hill. I know that elk minds work differently than human minds, and that the inner workings of a herd, and an elk, are very mysterious indeed, but I also believe that it is important to remember that all animals are individuals, following at once the ways of their species and their own predilections, as we do; and so it made me smile to see how each female responded a little differently to their temporary liege lord & lover, and how wonderful a thing it is, to remember that each animal is its own unique being, with its own set of stories and tastes and (dare I say it? Yes I do dare) loves.

The land felt very dry, as it always is at this time of year to one degree or another. But this summer, it feels like bone.

 The way the green drains from this landscape is always astonishing. The sun crisps it away. 

 At the beginning of May, the same path looked like this. The herbalist Asia Suler and I wandered here then, when the idea for Elk Lines was just a bright seed, a glinting stone, in my heart. (She recently interviewed me on her website, Woolgathering and Wildcrafting--do go have a read! I am very honored indeed.)

We sat amidst the Douglas irises (whose purple my camera did not properly capture-- they are much darker!) and watched the elk cows move together in groups with young calves at their heels. 

Now, the irises are going rust-orange at the tips, and making twisted, strange seedpods.

The only thing blooming, as far as I can see, is the coyotebrush. These are the male flowers. The female flowers are in bloom too; they more resemble dandelion propellors, tiny and furred, like a coyote's pelt. Coyotebrush is an incredibly drought-resistant plant, with tiny resinous leaves that deflect sun and conserve water, deep taproots, and the ability to regenerate from fire. It also, in my opinion, smells like sun and dry stones and the spice of this coastal land.

White Gulch, a favorite spot among the tule elk, has lost all of its green. The elk are now harder to spot, their bodies the same color as the hills.

And the lines they make with their travel up and down the combes and valleys—how they resemble the creases in buckskin!

The land has always felt to me like a great animal with skin and fur, her bones the granite rocks. Sometimes, when I walk barefoot especially (or in sandals such as the ones I just made, which keep me very close to the texture of the earth just below the sole), the ground feels very alive, like it has its own blood and heat and the ability to reach up through all of my bones as I go. Surely, it does. All the ancient people of this world believed it—the land a great dreaming animal—and now science tells us that walking barefoot is "good" for us because of the earth's electric charge (but please don't get me going about the absurdness of "Earthing" or I will never stop). While I'm sure it's true in those terms, I prefer the idea that she is a great creature, and your bare feet to her skin are like the tender touch between two animals. Both, to me, are the same story, just told with different words.

This time on the land with the elk, my feet in the buckskin hills, always feeds my own story-making in the truest of ways. Last week, I carried a heavy box of the latest Elk Lines back from the printers. How good it felt (though my arms did ache!) to walk with such bounty in my arms, fueled by the elk, the wild hills, and every reader whose eyes and hearts touch these words.

I hope very much that these Elk Lines can somehow let the voice of the land (whatever tiny humble scrap I've managed to approximate) sing through into each of you. As I wrote to Asia in our interview:

"Above all things I hope that through my work a renewed sense of the tenets of deep ecology and animistic thought can be re-infused into the world of contemporary human literature. The stories we tell shape the world we see, and the world we see is one of terrible environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, degradation, and extinction, both of animals and plants, and of human cultures and languages. I hope for my writing to convey a sense of the animism of all beings; that elk and alder and lichen and stone, bear and lizard and fog and oatgrass, are all subjects, characters, integral players in the stories of our lives and this world, not the objects we have made them into with our cultural narratives. For when a deer or a tree is a subject and not an object, it is not as easy to destroy it without a care. I also hope to keep the old human magics and beliefs surrounding this wise old world of ours alive in my writing—the ways of weedwife and hunter, wandering jester and gypsy and shaman and witch. And if my tales can be wild woodrat nests which lead to the other worlds inside this world, all the better. If they can somehow gesture at the weedier, wilder, dustier footpath which leads us back into what it really means to be human (and not the big tar roads)—well, that would be grand indeed."

* I want to add a quick note about buckskin, cultural appropriation, etc. We tend to associate buckskin (especially that particular term) with the Wild West, and of course with the native people of this country. A few things to note—first of all, in California, traditional garb varied widely, but especially along the coast, buckskin wasn't really a big clothing item, except in the winter, along with other furs. The climate is so mild that plant fiber clothing (such as tule skirts) or no clothing at all was preferable. (In the early 20th century, at horribly racist "museums" or "demonstration sites," such as those in Yosemite National Park, native California people were made to dress in buckskins with fringe and beading, like the Plains Indians who the American public seemed to think represent the "best" kind of Indian.) In addition, the process of tanning hides, and making buckskin (which is just deer skin tanned on both sides, as I mentioned above, so that all the hair is gone), is about as old as we are as a species. (Read an interesting little history here.) It is an ancient human inheritance, and craft, so when I write about it here I am not trying to appropriate a Native American tradition, but rather I am trying to reconnect with the roots we all share. The Native people of this (and many other) continent(s) just happen to have held onto that tradition (and the deep old wisdom of what it means to be human and connected) longer than anybody else, before we white Europeans showed up here and nigh on ruined everything. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Patchwork Coat of Muses: The Star Fishers

A scrap from my morning writings, a glimpse of stars, inspired by the transcendent work of Jeanie Tomanek. 
The Star Fishers, by Jeanie Tomanek
It may not be until you're all of five-and-twenty that they let you go out in the boat alone, only your hunting dogs to keep you company. It may take you that long to make an acceptable net. Net-weaving, you might be surprised to learn, is more than half of star-fishing. They don't swim very fast, after all, but they are dreadfully hard to hold, stars—slippery and steaming, singeing, bright and embered. This is no berry-picking, nothing like fishing in the creeks with nets and weirs, where you can scoop them up with your hands.

Our nets are made not of plant fiber, twisted into cordage, no, but of the sinew of creatures who live in the far north, among the whitest snow, and near the pole. Snowshoe hares, caribou, lynx—these are the proper sorts of animals. Their bodies are shaped by cold, and must be tough to survive, and so their sinews are just the thing, tempered by cold and the endurance of glaciers. They are our neighbors, our big family in the cold. For how do you imagine we get up and down to do our fishing, except by the pole itself, and the colored aurora too, when it lays down its silk, and hoists us up?

Our country, the country of the Star Fishers, is the pole. We keep it nice and straight, all polished, pointing north and hitched securely to Polaris, who we would never fish and eat, no indeed--and upset the great order of the world? Not yet, anyhow. It is not yet time to unravel the very stars. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Notes from the Wild Folk: A Visit to the Alpine

For a week of days and of star-thick nights, I was steeped and clarified both by the Sierra Nevada air, by the wind down the granite passes that sang the trees to oceans, by the sight of ancient ragged ridges 9,000 feet high and more, by the company of my family and of my new friends—juniper and aspen, rowan, goldenrod and chickaree. I am still adjusting to sea-level. I never thought I'd say such a thing, being such a lover of wild coast and fog! The last time I was in the Sierras, closer to 11,000 feet, I was desperate for the lower elevation because I found it very difficult to sleep. This time, I felt like Nan Shepherd in The Living Mountain, when she writes, "I am a mountain lover because my body is at its best in the rarer air of the heights and communicates its elation to the mind [...] At first I thought that this lightness of body was a universal reaction to rarer air. It surprised me to discover that some people suffered malaise at altitudes that released me, but were happy in low valleys where I felt extinguished." (Page 7). While I certainly do not feel "extinguished" in the low valleys where I live-- and in my heart am an ocean-side, misty forest kind of girl—I did experience the "feyness" of the heights that Nan Shepherd so joyously describes. I felt giddy at the end of each day with the richness of our rambles on the high ridges, to the clear lakes.

Goldenrod, yellow herald of late summer, bloomed everywhere (well, mostly near water, though not this ridge-top adventurer), so sun-bright it was impossible not to smile at the sight of her. 

For the first time, I met mountain ash, aka rowan, a native variety of that small tree of mythic proportions. I've known about rowan since I was a young girl, reading books full of medicine women and Celtic magics. Once, I thought I spotted a rowan tree growing in the front yard of a strange, stained-glass windowed house around the corner from the home where I grew up. I'm not sure if it really was, but I was certain this tree meant that the woman inside was a witch, and possibly one of dubious intentions.

 Up here, in the Desolation Wilderness, the rowans provided sudden bursts of scarlet amidst a landscape dry with summer,  colored mostly with the dusty silver shades of granite and juniper, the fawns of bark and stone, the evergreens, the sharp blue of the sky. I gathered some berries to string up over our front door, for protection, though some say that rowans attract fey folk as well as guard against them. Mostly, that string of red will stir my blood with the beauty of those alpine waterways where she grows, singing soft songs of protection to the ducks and the grouse, the beaver and the mountain chickadee, come night.

Thanks to my trusty Laws' Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada  (a fabulous book I've had since my time at Heyday, but hadn't really found the opportunity to use until now, full not only of the usual flora and fauna but also insects, lichens, mushrooms, stars, tracks, clouds, all hand illustrated with both character and accuracy), I fell into an ecstasy of identification. There were so many new plants and birds 7,000 feet in the air, and some 200 miles east of my usual haunts. This coffeeberry, for example, I could identify as such, but something about it was different-- the shape of the berries, that array of autumnal colors-- and then I learned that the Sierras have their very own coffeeberry (no doubt a favorite of the gray foxes as well as the Sierra red fox, as it is down by the sea too), Rhamnus rubra. After a day long ramble, upon returning, I would grab my Laws' Guide, make a cup of tea, and flip through it pleasurably, seeking the new friends I'd met.

And then there were the aspens. Their trunks white-dusted and full of dark eyes, their leaves a dance and a shimmer in the wind. As my mother said, there are certain winds that you only notice because of the aspens, who pick up the slightest breezes and ripple. Their full name is quaking aspen, or Populus tremuloides, and the flower essence of this tree is used for panic and anxiety. The latter I can understand, but not for the reasons often used—there is nothing about the dance of the aspen that reminds me of fear, of tremors, of quaking. Not at all. This tree is all light and water and lilt. It shimmers and flickers. It does not quake like a man trembling in his boots at the sight of a bear, such as the name evokes. Aspens remind me that in the face of a wind, sometimes the best thing to do is come totally and fully alive.

The sight of aspens dancing thus is immensely, immeasurably calming. It has the same effect as the sight of water rippling or waves spreading with foam. Why these things are soothing and centering, I cannot quite articulate. Aspen leaf stems are flattened at the base, so that the leaves may move back and forth, fluttering in the slightest breeze. I wonder why the aspens have chosen, over many millenia, to grow thus. And why one side of the leaf is dark green, the other silvery, so that in that flutter is the effect of light on water—this is a Great Mystery, indeed.

At Lily Lake, rimmed with aspen, alder, cottonwood and willow (how I love the water-loving trees!) my mother and I shared morning tea, a short walk up from our cabin, and spotted the home of a beaver, probably made from the silvery aspen branches, a beaver favorite!

The original architects, those fellows, inspiration, I'm sure, for the earliest tents and houses.

High up the ridges, I fell completely in love with the tatterdemalion silhouettes of the old, wind-tossed junipers. The more gnarled and silvery-barked, the more ancient—and the more beautiful, in my mind. These trees seem to grow straight from the granite. 

Their dusty blue berries are a favorite of many birds, especially robins, as well as the numerous species of chipmunk and ground squirrel who live here, and the black bear too. 

The juniper is a sacred, wise plant, and I am writing an in-depth column on the subject for the wonderful EarthLines magazine, so I shan't give away too many tidbits here. Suffice it to say, juniper's berries and boughs are at once medicinal and magically powerful—clearing, cleansing, warming, and rooted in underworlds of stone. I spent a fair amount of time with my hands to their bark or rock-bound roots, wondering what stories they held inside.

Beyond the first juniper ridge, we ventured to Grass Lake. My brother (above) and I both swam to a little island in the middle. The water was cool but refreshing, not the gasping temperature of snowmelt that I've felt before. 

However, I learned about halfway across that I'm a mediocre swimmer at best, with no technique and little stamina, and that it was really quite cold. I experienced a somewhat sobering moment in the middle, humbled by the dark blue expanse of water under and all around me, and remembered that floating on one's back in the water provides excellent respite. So I dog-paddled and back-floated, breast-stroked and frog-kicked my way to that granite island, and arrived trembling from head to toe with the effort. There, my brother and I lay on the warm, mica-flecked stones and felt the peace of wild things flowing in through our skin. A chickaree (little tassel-eared squirrel) called, and a kingfisher. The wind hushed through the trees. The stones held the warmth of the sun.

The Sierras are defined by granite, it seems to me. It is foundation and bare bones. When you walk these ridges for a day, your feet get sore from the hardness of the ground, the granite jarring your bones. I am put in mind of more of Nan Shepherd's words:

I have written of inanimate things, rock and water, frost and sun; and it might seem as though this were not a living world. But I have wanted to come to the living things through the forces that create them, for the mountain is one and indivisible, and rock, soil, water and air are no more integral to it than what grows from the soil and breathes the air. All are aspects of one entity, the living mountain. The disintegrating rock, the nurturing rain, the quickening sun, the seed, the root, the bird--all are one. Eagle and alpine veronica are part of the mountain's wholeness. (The Living Mountain, 48.)

Even the grasshoppers have come to look like the rust-hued stone. They leap and click through the summer air.

In places, the rocks are newborn and sharp, all edges and rifts.

The air everywhere smells of the dry butterscotch sap of Jeffrey pines, which rises up from those bark clefts like a sweet mountain brandy.

You can almost feel the presence of snow, even in the height of summer, in the way the slopes are shaped, the hardiness of the low shrubbery. All that green, which looks like moss from a distance, I believe is a combination of low growing huckleberry oak, manzanita, and bitter cherry.

Bitter cherry, growing more lanky here, is a new plant to me-- the first wild cherry I've ever met, with tiny vermillion berries and glossy bark.

And I was very surprised and delighted indeed to find a smooth acorn amidst the little leaves of this shrubby plant, which I was desperate to identify for at least half an afternoon. It's the small pleasures that matter...

Like a teardrop stone, a juniper, and a cloud.

Or the very last bloom of the mountain heather, a deep and ravishing pink.

One afternoon, we climbed to a lake high enough that we could look back across the other lakes we had visited. They appeared like blue footprints, trod in granite. Nearer us, on the boughs of fir trees, the cones glistened as if made of ground crystal or the glinting green of certain rocks. "Each of the senses is a way in to what the mountain has to give" (97), writes Shepherd.

The taste of little dry thimbleberries, sweet and tart and full of seeds. The smell of butterscotch and dust, and juniper. The wind down the mountain passes and through the many pines and firs a rush as loud as oceans, with the calls of chickaree and flicker, Stellar's jay, kingfisher, inside. The heat of hot rocks under a lake-cold skin, or the fibrous juniper bark against the fingers. Blue sky, blue lakes fallen from it, sharp granite, the evergreen, the goldenrod, the rowan red. Yes, Nan, I have found my way in.

Come dusk, my brother, father and I went religiously to sit on the boat dock with a pipe of Highland whiskey tobacco (a guilty pleasure) to watch the bats come out, and then the first stars. Of all the small pleasures, this one must be supreme—bats, stars, the lake water painted with wind and crepuscular light. Night is a whole new country, full of stars thick as the mica in granite. Night is when the black bears roam nearer, and the Milky Way makes a path through the mountain passes. Night, and the air had autumn in it, cold.

It is the hinge between dusk and night that I love best. And here we sit, on the edge of it, my brother and I hunched in precisely the same posture (it must be familial), watching the night come in. No matter the myriad distractions and stimulations of this world, nothing can replace the feeling of one's eyes, searching and searching the dusk blue just the same color as those dusty juniper berries, until at last—ah!— they find a star, a chip of quartz, and relax. That first star, Vega, clear as the alpine air. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Elk Lines: The Stamps & the Story-Cases

On Saturday August 2nd, Lughnasadh, the inaugural mailing of Elk Lines began its arrival from here to Australia and back again. This time, much to my pleasure, all of the stamps on the envelopes were my own design... for of course I needed a strange elk with a hand on his belly, Old Sally's tea kettle and the alder-burl teacup of the Elk People, the Point Reyes Peninsula itself, a lupine flower, a California poppy. My several months' Gathering Time inspired in me enough confidence to begin using more of my humble sketching and watercoloring skills to enhance and decorate these Wild Tale offerings...and how liberating and satisfying it feels! I tend to draw very much from things I see, unlike in my writing life; it is a nice change for my brain I think, and I find I've learned the details of certain plants, landscapes and animals really well only through the act of sketching.

This new project of mine, this Elk Lines, is among other things (besides being a retelling of the Handless Maiden story) a deep exploration of the songlines and storylines of the Point Reyes Peninsula, its animals, plants, stones, waters, winds. So the stamp of the Peninsula herself is a particular favorite of mine; she is her own nomad creature, roaming ever north.

Here is an excerpt, to give those of you not subscribed a flavor and a feeling of this strange and many-faceted novel...

It is very simple. There is a doorway on the western edge of Tomales Point, where a line of granite stones, millennia old, bisects a footpath carved first by elk and native human feet, then, much later, by Spanish longhorn cattle, then the dairy ranching Pierce family, and later still, the National Park Service. Naturally, the doorway is difficult to see except in a particular slant of sun or moon, while the tide far down to the west reaches a particular degree of zenith.
 That’s where the Elk People came from. They sprinkled ocean salt, removed their shoes and held them in one hand, right foot first, and refrained from sneezing, though Old Sally later joked with her even older husband Mino that she might have ruined it all had she not plugged her nose, looked away from the sun, and made her cataracts very much worse for the effort. Nursing babies were pulled temporarily off the breast. Antonia and Zsusannah sang the offering songs—of fog, of elephant seal, of badger, of lupine, of ghost—and even the elk, weighted though they were with tents and kettles, fiddles, pots, pans and skins, stepped softly. When they were all through—twenty-nine men, women and children, nine elk, and one grizzly bear with a cub who had only just learned to walk—Antonia closed the door and locked it with a bone key. It is best to keep such doors closed, on the whole; one never knows who might stumble the wrong way to here or there.
The Elk People arrived on the morning of the first summer fog. In Point Reyes, as in much of coastal California, summer was not a neat three months in a seasonal round of twelve, nor was spring, nor winter, nor fall. Summer began when the last of the rain was gone from the bellies of the grasses, and the hills went gold, the color of mountain lion haunches and elk withers. Summer began when the pink clarkias and pearly everlasting flowers bloomed inside that dryness, and the fog began to roll in almost every morning along the coast, holding the wild beaches of Limantour and Drake, North, South, Abbott, Kehoe, McClure, with shifting, salt-sweet white. Summer began also when the last golden-crowned sparrows left for the northern tundras and the frequency of their mournful songs was replaced by the fecund trill of the just-arrived Swainson’s thrushes.
So the Elk People did not arrive in summer, exactly, but rather on the morning when summer first hinted again of her existence within the brief green hills of spring: a hip of fog along the Inverness Ridge that moved down its canyons like cloth unfurled from a woman’s hands. It was a morning in mid-April, when the wildflowers—baby blue eyes, irises, shooting stars, ground lupines, cream cups—were still at the height of their lives and pounced hourly by pollen-drunk bees, no hint of withering or yellowing yet at their petals. Only the faintest blush of gold had appeared on the south-facing slope of Black Mountain, which rose to the east of Point Reyes Station like a knuckled fist.

I am now hard at work on the second installment, which will arrive on September 21st, the fall equinox. This is also when the next round of new subscriptions will go out, so you are welcome to join in the elk-hoofed caravan and receive your first Elk Lines on the fall equinox! The whole thing works on a rolling basis... You can sign up here. 

I find I write best when the work of the mind is balanced with the work of the hands, as I've written many times by now. So I've also been felting and embroidering story-cases, to hold said Elk Lines.

These days, my studio desk is increasingly a haystack.

And since I was embroidering while using a haystack as a desk and textile studio combined, with hay everywhere underfoot, I learned the true meaning of trying to find a needle in a haystack. Let me tell you, this is a very frustrating experience. Needles glint just like hay when the sun is on them. They vanish immediately, even if you think your eyes have followed them to the ground. I lost at least two, and felt rather stupid, since it was after all my own fault, sitting in a hay-pile while sewing. I did, however, also find my needle in the haystack at least once, which made me feel like a fairytale luck had momentarily been bestowed upon me by the watching bushtits, or perhaps the mysterious hay itself.

Lost needles aside, sewing is much more interesting when done outside. These story-cases were felted and sewn as the towhees and hummingbirds watched, as the sun changed and the fog rolled in and the wind blew.

Some are naturally dyed an olive green with coyote brush, while others I kept the natural browns and whites of their wool.

I can imagine Old Sally or Antonia with such a felted case strapped to the side of their elk. When unrolled, it would reveal not envelopes full of stories but something far more mysterious and strange; I shall leave that tale up to you!

And so there you have it, a taste of these Elk Lines in word, image and textile. This story seems to want to come out of me through all possible mediums; and what a delicious feeling that is, to feel engaged hand and heart with it in this way with a tale, and to be able to share it all with you.

If you missed the link above, and would like to look more closely at these story-cases, follow along here.