Friday, April 11, 2014

Sharing a Cup of Alder-Creek Tea: Of Wrentits & Cleavers & Old Sanitariums

Welcome to the alder-creek tea-room of my Gathering Time. Come, sit by the rush of the water, the strong sway of the pale alders, and rest awhile with a cup of assam and milk, while I unfurl a new patchwork, a constellation of earthly happenings, at your feet like fallen stars.

This past week, the sun came back big and hot. After a good drench of rain, the green and the flowers and the leaves are bursting. We leapt from spring to summer, or so it felt, in a matter of days, as often happens here in the languor of April.

It is the sort of heat that inspires everybody in this old Victorian house, and the house next door, to string up the laundry. (Our line is more shaded than these, alas, but still effective!) This sight makes me so happy. I couldn't quite say why; I just love laundry-on-the-line, like flags. And when you bring it in-- oh, that sunny smell, there's nothing to rival it!

Out in the East Bay Hills, the checkerblooms are opening fresh pink-striped petals,  beside...

.... the umbels of the cow parsnip, a favorite of mine. She grows so tall in riparian corridors and meadows near water, and often in big groups, like women with white umbrellas and strange green jagged hands. New cow parsnip shoots were peeled and eaten as a late winter green by native people, and those big hollow stalks were used to carry water.

The narrow-leafed mule's ear with its wooly leaves is truly its own fallen star. The Coast Miwok native people of Marin County, where I grew up, roasted the seeds of this plant (I imagine they are like tiny sunflower seeds), ground them and mixed them in to their pinole meal. The leaves, in a bath, will help relieve fevers (interesting, given what a sunny plant this is—as if it knows well how to deal with the fire of fever because it knows how to handle that fiery sun).

And oh, oh my-- the constellations of elderflowers, one of my favorite of all the plants--they are nearly open here! I have heard tell from herbalists a few dozen miles up the coast that the elderflowers are already blooming in Sonoma, and in some parts of Marin. I imagine this has to do with the rainfall, which has been (and always is) more prolific to the west and the north than here. There are so many microclimates around the great lung of the San Francisco Bay—they make up their own patchwork, their own quilt of many colors!

This sweet (and very reachable, for a person of my height--an important consideration!) blue elderberry tree grows just up the hill from the old ruins of the Belgum Sanitarium, in Wildcat Regional Park. When we lived in Berkeley, Simon discovered this strange and magical place after a long day's tramping through the hills and valleys near the Wildcat Creek, just down a little ridge from our home. I find it a very magical place, full of old songs and gentle ghost-memories.

All the structures have burned to the ground, so the only remaining hints of the story of this place are the gnarled pear and apple trees where cows now graze, like leaning weathered folk with the best of all tales to tell, whose fruits are not perfect and glossy but pocked and scarred and the sweetest of all. There are several palm trees, the single spine of an old stone foundation, and sages and naked lady flowers that seem to have been long ago cultivars gone wild. In an upcoming book I've co-authored for Heyday Books (The Wonderments of the East Bay-- more on that soon!), I wrote a chapter about this Belgum Sanitarium, and I give you a small excerpt here, so you can catch something of the flavor of the place!

"The Sanitarium was founded in 1915 by Dr. Hendrik Belgum, and remained in his hands until an enormous grass fire in 1948 threatened the house; he died in the conflagration while trying to put it out. The estate was passed into the hands of his brother Bernard and his spinster sisters Ida and Christine, and while a few of the patients also stayed on, none of the Belgums had any psychiatric or medical qualifications[...] In the early 1900’s, when the bay edges were still largely undeveloped, these vistas must have been transcendent. Dr. Belgum seemed to take the whole health of his patients into consideration, not only locating his Sanitarium in a peaceful sanctuary of chaparral hills and oak forest, but doubling the place as a sort of oasis-homestead, with apiaries, dairy cows, fruit orchards, a vegetable garden and a private spring. [...] It is said that local children who snuck around the edges of the Sanitarium at dusk (a delightfully frightening place to sneak around as a kid, no doubt, being full of reputed crazies) often heard eerily beautiful music on clarinet or piano or horn coming from the windows of the main house. Apparently Dr. Belgum held musical evenings with his patients on the regular, and he and his two sisters, who were often called “ethereal,” joined in the dancing."   

Though an old insane asylum no doubt has it's share of sadness and sorrow, to me there is something so nourishing about this place, as if Dr. Belgum's original vision of total-healing, from milk to fruit to fresh air to honey to a natural spring, is the ghost that lives on here, this sense that just being in the presence of open land (in a time--the early 1900's-- when the Bay Area was mushrooming overnight into a cutting edge Progressive-Era metropolis) might heal an ailing mind. Oh, yes, oh yes indeed.

Speaking of healing, another fallen star in the gathering-cloth opened before you here, as we sip tea by the alder-shaded creek: the hawthorns are blooming! This little shrubby specimen is located just around the corner from my parent's house, and only a few blocks from the place I grew up. The hawthorn elixir I made last August is from this bush. Because it is so near my childhood home, it holds extra heart-healing for me, extra nourishment, the loving hug of family, and so it is special to me to watch it through the seasons for the first time.

Hawthorn is a supreme and also gentle (to the point of being a  food! A completely safe tonic food) cardiac tonic, treating everything from high blood pressure to anxiety-related heart-palpitations. This is the old May-tree of Beltane, of the Northern European Maying Festivals (blooms later there I presume!), boughs gathered by young lovers. Young maidens supposedly bathed in hawthorn dew to beautify themselves. But there is also a more bewitching side to this plant, a fairy-touched hint to those thorns. It was said that even hanging your washing from the hawthorn tree might invoke the fairy wrath-- for their washing might already be hanging there! And some say that witches made their broomsticks from the spiny hawthorn too...

I like these words about the hawthorn, from herbalist Guido Masé, in his book The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants: "She is a lover, half-wild, passionate, full in her affection but vengeful in her anger. But she is also like a mother, older and wiser than her children, revealing the secrets necessary for a full and safe life. She holds the bookends of the most joyful season of the year, bringing in the May and celebrating the harvest with her great gifts. And if we embrace her, with affection and with respect, she opens our hearts and lets our feelings flow to their fullest. Don't underestimate her love, or deny her power. A true tonic she is, desiring little praise, but holding us safe in her gentle hand." (248)

Hawthorn the Rabbit was named well. One look at him bounding through the garden, one nose-nuzzle into that soft fur, has quite the same effect as those nine drops of hawthorn elixir!

The cleavers, or goosegrass, or stickyweed, have been popping all through the garden since our first big rains at the end of January. Now, they make veritable tangles, emerald green and climbing everywhere! What a robust abundant offering they are! I attended a spring plant class last Thursday evening, and learned of the wonderful lymph-cleansing properties of the humble cleavers. So I picked some new tips right when I got home, rolled them between my hands to crush some of that stickiness, to avoid the feeling of velcro in the throat, and was just astounded by the pea-like, watery, refreshing taste of this beautiful plant! It literally tastes of spring to me; it is a burst of energy-- and it had been clambering through the garden, offering itself day by day! I can't believe it took me this long to try it. Now, I nibble it whenever I pass through the garden, just like Hawthorn—he adores it, and slurps it up like pasta— sometimes bending to nip it off with my teeth if my hands are full. It also makes a very cooling wound-wash, and a refreshing tea.

From the attic window seat, I am watching the leaves of the black walnut unfurl, obscuring many of the holes left by the red headed sapsucker. I haven't seen him in a while, though I think I've heard him! I wonder when he will return.

In that windowseat, and out in the garden, and by our big front windows (with Gertrude Jekyll roses from my mother's garden intoxicating me with their perfume), I've been researching and note-taking and drawing and painting...

This spread here is a constellation of some of the beings out on the steep green land of Mt. Barnabe, in Lagunitas on April 9th, as observed with a tracking mentor and friend, as the fog crept over the far ridge for the first time this season, perhaps pulled in from the ocean by our days of heat. These pages are a hint of the seasonal gathering, the almanac making, that is to come... To leave you with another tidbit, though, this idea is brewing-- of earth constellations (term coined in brainstorm with tracking-mentor and friend, Scott Davidson): the groupings of beings that, moon-by-moon, make up the pattern of what's happening out on the land, the same way Aries, for example, is a grouping of disparate stars that has become this Zodiac-story of April, with supposed bearing on our lives. Don't the networks of plants and animals, blooming and birthing and migrating through the land we walk on, the air we breathe, grouped roughly by the subtle changes of each moon here (which feel each like their own season, in a way), have just as much of an effect on us, if not more?

A bald eagle winged through at almost eye level (due to the very steep slope of the hill we sat on, and its view far far down into the valley that leads to Kent Lake)-- breathtaking, truly, deeply, breathtaking.

The mourning cloak butterfly seems to just be returning from its winter sleep... and as I've learned, likes to tap the sap-holes made by sapsuckers! I wonder if I will see any come to this garden, and our black walnut.

And also, about the sweet wrentit whose bouncing voice makes my heart ache with the beauty of wide open scrub-hills it evokes, the smell of coyotebrush and sage, the expansiveness of a hill rolling down to a valley, I discovered this most wonderful tidbit:

"Wrentits are believed to mate for life. A pair will remain together in a suitable site, even as small as one acre. A bonded pair have been observed to snuggle up together at an overnight roost to the extent that they intertwine their legs, and intermesh their feathers; and, with their inner legs drawn up, they form a tight feathered ball (Erickson, M. M., 1948)." (From the Audubon Wrentit page)

My pages are full with notes about the wildflowers that are opening-- too many to keep up with! One of my favorite fallen-star pieces, gathered here to share with you by the alder creek over tea, is the baby-blue eyes. While wandering Potrero Meadow two weeks back with my love, we came upon  one open grassy patch between two fir-woods, unfurling thick with bracken ferns. Around the ankles of those ferns were more baby-blue eyes than I've ever seen, hundreds of little blue faces dense as forget-me-nots. They brought me down to my hands and knees, touching their delicate striped petals still wet and translucent with the rain from the day before. An enchanted place, that forest of tiny blue flowers. Then, Simon noticed a fresh hole beneath a tussock of grass, amidst all of these blue blooms, and we peered in, and quite envied whatever soul lived within, to have such a doorstep!

Well, I'm off again into the nasturtium-tangled pathways of this Gathering-Time! May your heels be lifted off the ground too by the green movements of spring, and may we always give ourselves time for alder creek-side cups of tea! (Easier said than done, I know; the creekside can be the deep rush of a good book, the alders can be the handful of roses brought in from the garden, the dandelion flowers picked out of sidewalk cracks, whatever small token of the wild world you can bring into your home!) I need to remind myself of this so often—to slow down, to pour the tea, to do nothing but sit and listen and be. Often I feel defined by what I produce--stories, research in my notebook, sketches, books read, classes taught, challenges faced. I am doing my best, during this Gathering-Time, to remember that the body and mind and spirit are whole and complete and just as valuable when they sit by the creekside together, sipping tea, thinking of nothing but alders and the sun-ripple on water. Maybe in such moments, we are most ourselves, because we have stepped out of ourselves a little, and are part alder, part creek, as we have always been, deep down.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Making A Patchwork Nest in the Orange Blossomed Tree

First and foremost and above all things, it is impossible for me to resist sharing with you the leapings and adventurings of dear Hawthorn. And the truth is, what better a guide through these weeks of Gathering inspiration and beauty and strangeness and the tastes of new plants, like a bushtit gathering cobwebs for her nest, than Hawthorn in his ramblings? He is my companion as I sit in the garden with my notebook and my pen, as I explore the canopy of the orange tree and taste the flourishing cleavers.

He reminds me to weave under and over and through the chard and nasturtiums, rather than around. He is an advocate of sticking-your-nose-into-the-fennel (or the chard, as he is here!), and also random moments of leaping frenzied joy, in which he speeds off and covers half the yard in the blink of an eye (and it's a big yard!).

So I thought it only fair to share with you his bounding bunny-bottom; I thought it prudent, because his rabbit ways are wise and wonderful and rooted deeply in the winds and soils and secret places under the comfrey bush, and they make me smile and my heart relax and open up every morning.

So now that we've sniffed the air, and tasted the wild radish, and romped a few times down the hay-strewn path, we can away into more serious business...

I wrote in my previous post that I would share weekly Gathering Time findings with you here, and I would like to add that I see these posts as collections, like magical patchwork skirts, like the sacred items in the Irish Crane Skin Bag, like a small gathering of treasures, of spices and herbs thrown into a copper pot, and who knows what precisely they will make! But that is also precisely the point, and the beauty, of Gathering from the heart instead of the mind for a little while.

I am going to number these spices, these patches, these treasures, as one would the steps of a recipe...

And what better a way to begin...

1) A Nest in the Orange Tree

... than with a home in the heart of the fragrant orange tree, with its purple doorstep!

For many weeks now I've been swooning at the sweet smell of these blossoms (oh, at dusk, it is enough to make you weep!), and I have been slurping up the juice of these beautiful oranges, ripe all winter long. Then, peering deep into the green fragrant canopy one day...

I beheld this soft hanging nest, held together with cobwebs and lichens, with dryer lint and grass and who knows what else! And lo, in alarm, who flew out but the tiny and wonderful little bushtit?

I realized then that I had been seeing at least two bushtits fly back and forth from the plum trees with lichen in their beaks, from the overhangs of sheds with cobwebs, to the heart of this orange tree, for several weeks, and I hadn't even thought to look for a nest! They are the tiniest birds in the garden, besides the hummingbird, and they forage for spiders and other insects in sociable chipping flocks, all moving together from tree to tree.

Every so often, one lands on the oak branch outside the kitchen window, which is right above the sink. I have to say, being eye to eye for a split second with that adorable, elfin face is almost too much for me. And not to belittle them with words of cuteness—but, my goodness, I can't help but soften, to be in the presence of such a quick light being.

The bushtit's nest is unique among all North American birds; in fact it is the only member of its family in the Americas. The seven others dwell in Eurasia, and all have hanging nests. Even more unusual, several younger birds may hang around and help the mated pair during breeding and nesting season—and these helpers are usually males! This is almost unheard of in the bird kingdom!

American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus (c) Audubon  
Now, I notice two bushtits in particular coming and going from the mouth of the nest every day. I wonder if they have chicks yet, or only eggs, or no eggs at all, and they are still putting the finishing touches on their home. But what a fine snug home it is; if I were a bird, I'd choose the orange tree too, for its thick canopy and its sweet heady fragrance. Imagine, upon waking and going to sleep, that special crepuscular perfume of the citrus-tree, wafting near. 

The orange tree and her blossoms have been held in special esteem for wedding ceremonies the world over, from China to the Middle East and eventually to Spain and then the rest of Europe during the Crusades. Those heady blossoms symbolize purity, innocence and fertility in Chinese tradition, and were worn from ancient times in wedding crowns in the Arabic tradition.  

It seems only suitable, then, for the young bushtit couple to make their wedding bower in the arms of the orange tree, with her orange-blossom lanterns. May their little ones be healthy safe and strong, and their days full of many spiders and small moths. 

2) The Gifts of Meadows

My love and I wandered the meadows of Mt. Tamalpais and of Point Reyes' Bear Valley this past weekend, in rain and sun, and I did not bring my camera, because sometimes the world is too beautiful for the camera, if you know what I mean? Or rather, sometimes, it is better to be without it, so that you remember to use all of your senses, and to sit with the beauty and the mystery you see, rather than trying to capture it. I saw such beautiful small and big things, the sorts of things a part of me desperately wanted to photograph. But now, they are so deep in me, because my body and my eyes were the only place to gather up and store away, and I am glad the camera was in the car.

In the big meadow beyond the first alder-riparian corridor along the Bear Valley Creek, the ground was covered in orange poppies, all heavy and glistening with rain. A small raptor burst from a bush and winged to a lone little fir tree in the midst of those poppies, and her tail feathers were just the same color. I waded through the rainy grass to the tree, knowing the kestrel would not wait for me, feeling overwhelmed by all those orange silken poppy heads. Sometimes, just touching a tree (so squat, I could almost touch her perch!) where a bird has sat feels like a moment of grace. And laying down amidst the California poppies (a tincture of which I made last year, and which affords me deep relaxation and peace) the same color as kestrel feathers; that is the brightest patchwork-scrap of silken ember-gold.

In the fir duff near another, different meadow, Potrero Meadow, on the west-facing flanks of Mt. Tamalpais, the calypso orchids were up everywhere. They are small and low enough that in order to smell the heady vanilla sweetness of their nectar, you have to get down on your hands and knees and bow your head so that your nose is almost touching the earth, then tilt those lips toward you; the sweet scent is divine. The name "Venus's slipper" makes quite a lot of sense, as does Calypso orchid, for these wildflowers are like nymphs, hidden in the shade of the forest, waiting to beguile you into their speckled arms.

Their blossoming window is so brief, so delicate, and very specific to certain areas beneath the firs, where some mysterious confluence of soil nutrients and light and weather and a particular species of mycorrhizal fungi support their flourishing. I love to wonder at such things. Why here, why right here, are there five dozen Calypso orchids nodding pink and fragrant at my ankles, begging each to be gently touched, and smelled, and praised, before they are gone again for a whole new turning about the sun? I wonder what it is like, to be that tiny new seed in the duff,  or to be those basal leaves, waiting and waiting and dreaming sunset-colored dreams until the next winter rains, the next touch of spring sun, in which to send up a new stem, a new pink flower?

3) Juliette de Bairacli Levy

This week I have been reading Juliette de Bairacli Levy's Traveler's Joy. It makes me nearly weep with its beauty, and ache for the world, so nearly lost, of the footloose wandering herbalist with her owl companions and her Afghan hounds and her courage. I am so utterly inspired by this woman; I have been ever since I watched the film Juliette of the Herbs roughly a year ago, and found that she brought me to my knees, this wise old woman speaking with such love to her olive trees, her rosemary, her hounds.

She pushed me straight onto the path of herbal study that I had been longing to walk since I was a girl of eight or so, reading countless books full of heroines who were medicine women, midwives, herbalists, adventurers. The Way of the Herbs had always felt a bit closed to me before hearing Juliette speak (even through a film!)-- huge and overwhelming and a tad bit frightening. But something changed in my heart after that, and though I am utterly at the beginning of this beautiful journey of learning the herbs, my life has changed in the past year because of them, and because of her—nettles and motherwort and raspberry leaves hang from wherever they can through the house, crampbark and skullcap and motherwort and tulsi are growing out in the garden, a maze of tinctures sit upon the shelves, and the plants, most importantly, are beginning to feel like old friends, and like the greatest of teachers.

Motherwort (toothed leaves)
Anyhow, I thought as my final strands of cobweb for the day, I'd leave you with a handful of quotes from this gorgeous book, from the wise and wonderful Juliette de Bairacli Levy.

"When I used to travel on horseback for long distances over sunburnt moorlands, on journeys to the Gypsy horse fairs of the North of England, on days of fierce sun I used sprays of elder blossoms in my hat. This truly cooled the air; it was taught to me by the horse-trading Gypsies of the Pennine hills." (page 107)

"There is also soapless washing when heavy, smooth stones are employed, preferably from rivers, and the washing done in rivers. Clothes are slapped hard upon the stones, by hands or supple branches from such trees as willow or alder. After being slapped, the clothes are rubbed lightly over smooth stones, to release the dirt. Then they are treaded upon with bare feet in the water, and placed over reeds or flat stretches of grass, for sun bleaching and air sweetening. I learned this way of washing linen in Portugal, in the swift rivers there. Then the toil of laundry was turned into a sort of revelry, of singing and dancing in the water (with much laughter), and I have never known linen more white or fragrant, so that it rivaled the swathes of white marguerite flowers growing there." (page 29)

"The tin of glowing embers of many colors from pale yellow to deep crimson always reminds me of the Persian proverb: 'the fireside is the tulip bed of a winter day.'" (page 44)

"I am most happy when swallows make their nests in any home of mine, and in Galilee, for years I had nearly seventy swallows sleeping in one of my rooms. Every dusk they would come winging homeward, happy and rejoicing as returning children. They enjoyed my welcome of praising words and knew that the windows would always be open for them. They darted throughout the entire dwelling, eating up the mosquitoes, and they would come in by day to catch the houseflies. My useful and beautiful swallows! Every night I counted them in my lantern light; it was a sort of rite, and the birds would look down at me in friendliness as I counted them to make sure all my seventy were safely home." (page 91)

"The patchwork cover is the nicest for travelers. First, it is beautiful to the eye, and further, it does not show wear marks as quickly as a plain one, being of many colors as the biblical coat of Joseph. For patchwork I collect snippets of cloth as I travel; they are everywhere. I seldom visit a new area without finding some rags of colored cloths. Many of them come to me washed up from sea and river. Their different designs are a fascination, and when it comes to using them, and to the sewing of them in place on lengths of cloth, it is like painting pictures, using bits of cloth instead of paints. Patchwork shirts, blouses and skirts, also window curtains (if one uses such) can be made as well as the usual bed covers. I expect that this famous Biblical 'coat of many colors' was patchwork. For the wise Sufis, patchwork has magical properties and powers, and they wear it very often as part of their clothing." (page 80)

And so, there is my first patchwork for you!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Gathering Time

This week, I am penning the words of my thirteen Gray Fox Epistle. Thirteen makes a complete lunar year of thirteen moons. I can hardly articulate the joy and gratitude I feel, that for the past thirteen months, these tales have been so deeply supported, and have found their way into hands all over the world. This work has filled up my heart so fully, as moonlight does, as sunlight, as stars through the fir branches and fox tracks and the morning songs of robins. It has re-wilded my own soul as much as it has the old stories, tale by tale, a little deeper with each word into this land I call home. And so I want to offer my love to the Stories, to the Readers, to all whose hands and hearts have touched this wild work for thirteen beautiful moons. It feels just right to offer up this thanks, and these words here, on the day of the Spring Equinox, when sun and moon are balanced, when day and night are of equal length, and all the land begins to burst into bloom.

With each story and moon, I've learned a little bit more about the cycles of creativity that move within me (and in all of us)—in my hand and heart and head and body and soul. Like the moon, and like the field where the squash and runner beans grow, the place where the St. John's wort and mint and chamomile and thyme reach for sun, each creation has its seasons, its waxings and wanings, its seed to flower to fruit and back down into the roots again, to begin once more.

The very first month of Gray Fox Epistles, March 2013, specially wrapped!
Part of birthing a story is to find out where it ends, and where something new can begin. And so, with this imminent collection of all thirteen Epistles, thirteen new moon seeds sown far and wide throughout the world, this marks the final month of the Gray Fox Epistles. But never fear, dear friends! This ending (of sorts) has a new beginning tucked right there in its paws, in its petals, and down in its roots. I only close this circle of thirteen Epistles in order to make way for a new one to bloom! I only tie off one story-thread, in order to begin to sew another, and straight-away!

(And indeed, the Thirteen Epistles aren't going anywhere-- any and all back issues can always be purchased at Wild Talewort!)

For as a writer and a maker—and as in all of our lives in one way or another—the way I create a story is to follow my feet and my senses along the path, and gather as I go of the light and kinglet-song, the dirt-smells and the sounds of faraway trains, and let the material tell me what to do next.  It is clear to me that the Gray Fox Epistles always intended to be a family of thirteen nested moons, and has no desire to be anything but, and so I must bow to her, grinning, already leaping up in my heart to begin the path-wander, and the gathering, for the next Project.

As to its specifics, this new-born Project held in the paws of the Gray Fox Epistles, it is still a little bit of a secret, both to you and to me! Well, it is not entirely a secret to me; it is more like a very shy creature who lives in the garden and shows me flashes of her auburn fur from time to time, a slender ear, the marks of teeth upon the nasturtiums, the runes of her tracks.

The point is, I need to get to know her a bit before I give her back to any and all of you. I need to drink dew from the same tulips she frequents, and learn of her dreams, and the small stories under her tongue.

In plainer English, on the new moon of March 31st, which marks the 13th Epistle, I will be starting a 2-month Gathering Time before sending out the first installment of a New Project on the summer solstice, June 21st.

This New Project will differ little in external appearance from the Gray Fox Epistles--it will arrive in your postbox with a wax seal and a tale of deep wildness and mythic resonance within. The main difference will be that this New Project will be a continuous piece, either chapters or linked stories that must be read chronologically, that build upon each other. It will be a story to sink deep into over many months. In addition, it will arrive on the eight seasonal festivals (Sabbats) that make up the pagan-Celtic Wheel of the Year (June 21st, August 1st, September 21st, November 1st, December 21st, February 1st, March 21st, May 1st), instead of the new moons, to explore a different sense of time and cyclicality!

Just to give you a little bit more to chew on, this New Project will be based in some way upon a single old myth or folktale. You can think of it like one of the Gray Fox Epistles—a re-wilded fairytale, set in the ecologies of the North-Western lands I know— expanded into something of novel length and breadth, with countless mole tunnels and oak-roots and flowering persimmon tips branching out from it.

As a final hint, this project will explore deeply the concept of Time, and the Seasons, and the way the bushtits gathering cobwebs from under the drainpipes for nests, the alder trees pushing out catkins, the coyotes courting on the dunes, and us human-folk—how together we are part of this skein of the seasons and weathers of the place we live. The phrase "an Almanac of Place" keeps coming into my mind in this regard; this new project will have an Almanac-like quality to it.

But first, before the Writing, comes the Gathering, and that's what the next few months are going to be all about.

Because in order to win the trust, and learn the story, of the wild, auburn-furred creature at the edges of my mind, nibbling the nasturtiums and the vetch there, I must first gather inspiration, like the bushtits gathering cobwebs for their nest. After all, without a nest, there's nowhere for the eggs to be held, and to be nourished and protected, once they are laid!

There are so very many metaphors for this beautiful stage in the creative process. It is, on the one hand, like the making of a nest that will hold the story-to-come. It is also like the building of a compost-pile, to feed the springtime plants. It is like the planting of nitrogen-fixing pea-vines and oats in the fields of last year to nourish the new seeds of this.

For me specifically, this will be a time of Gathering every sort of inspiration into my basket that you can imagine--deep research into my many books of lore and myth and history, ecology, botany, and herbalism, balanced equally by inquiry and exploration ever deeper into the unfolding lives of the plants and animals and weather patterns on the land of my huge tangled garden, and the big wild hills. It will be one part woolgathering (sifting through daydreams and nightdreams and the dreams passing by on wooly clouds), one part historygathering (inside the Books), and two parts wildgathering (What is the natural history of that bewick's wren who keeps visiting the lemon tree? What do the cumulus clouds indicate? What are the bobcats eating out on the land in the waning moon of April?)

I will be making a Wild Almanac of Days.

I will be gathering all of these things into my basket like seedheads, like red buttons, like ocean-smoothed granite.

I will be searching for them under the bark of trees, in the wet places of the forest, inside the gills of mushrooms and under rocks where the newts hide.

I will be gathering like the bees with pollen-baskets at their legs, from every flower I can find that sings in some way to my story-making heart.

And like those bees who bring pollen back to the hive, I will be sharing some of my findings with you, dear readers, right here on The Indigo Vat, my online journal of everyday musings. This will provide utterly crucial structure for me, and a window for any of you who are interested into this time between the Gray Fox Epistles and the New Project she holds in her paws.

Every Friday, beginning April 4th, I will be sharing at least one (if not more!) of the Gathered bits from the week. This might mean the life-history of the western fence lizard; this might mean the forest-ritual roots of the old stories of Robin Hood; this might mean the medicinal proporties and growing habits of the motherwort in my garden. And most definitely, this will include photographs, perhaps a scrap of poem or story-start here and there, and some illustrations too, which I will be doing regularly in my journal (and which I feel a tad shy to share!).

Here are some samples from journals-past, to give you a taste.

Sharing with you each week will give a skeletal structure to this Gathering Time, a set of drawers (rather like my old apothecary's cabinet here)  instead of great big messy basket. By the end of May, I hope that all of these drawers are full of the most nourishing food for thought, food for heart, food for soul, and most importantly, food for the story!

And then, when the summer sun is longest in the sky, you can expect a brand new Story-by-Mail in your postbox, fresh as the first elderberries.

In the meantime, I will be climbing every tree, metaphoric or no, that I can find in search of just the right mosses and lichens for the nest into which this New Project is soon to be laid! What a joy it will be.

And what gratitude and fullness of heart I feel, to get to share this process, and this work, with you. I feel so full of happiness, and thanks, that in this way, walking this Wild Talewort path, I can let the beauty of what I love be what I do (with a big bow to Rumi there!), kissing the ground every day.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

translated by Coleman Barks