Monday, March 23, 2015

A Song of Inverness

We spent the last week perched on the Inverness ridge, at eye level with the aerie of two courting osprey, the incoming fog, a sliver of Tomales Bay below. It is astounding, how much the human heart can love a place; an old ache, bigger than might seem possible. Some places, some journeys, are best kept close to the bone. Not everything needs be shared in this quick-to-share world. But I'd like to share with you a few notes from those precious days with nothing to do but sink into a kind of human baseline (for a bobcat baseline is an overstep walk...), with nothing to do but love the nettles, love the bay, love the fog, love the pine peaks and salt, love each other and this world. 

Taking the land into the body is a way of greeting, of saying thank you. These tea things were gathered from alder shade and coastal scrub, and a bouquet of wild radish as well (because beauty is medicine too).

The osprey, making a home, moving sticks and filling the air with kee kee kee. 

 Gold flecks in the sand at the shore of Tomales Bay. Maybe mica, maybe something else, chipped off old granite. They are a whirl of stars under bare toes.

A whole day drifting and paddling through the benevolent waters of Tomales Bay, that old mother fault zone, another world—an old kind of magic. To be, for a day, as buoyant as any loon.

From the view of osprey and hawk, Tomales Bay is a great blue ribbon, the boundary between two tectonic plates.

On secret shores, the dogwood was a red fire, the marsh grasses long and green, moving under the hands of the wind.

And the ceanothus hung down cliffs toward the bay, a blue hum of honey scent and bees.

On the Inverness ridge, the old granite spine of Point Reyes, made of the same granite as the Sierras long ago, the Douglas firs were constellations of new green tips. (So many cups of tea!)

Just before blooming, the cow parsnips were like the heads of medieval ladies, gleaming and wise, with many secrets and love poems tucked in their headdresses.

The starry solomon's plume opened on the day of the spring equinox, quiet and true.

And a morning walk to the bay shore, with tea and notebook,  a quick secret swim, is my idea of true bliss.

The great blue heron had the same idea for a peaceful morning as I. He flew away at my coming, but left his enormous prints, the size of my hands.

To sit with an iris, and learn some of her secrets: this to me is the same thing as prayer.

I'll leave you with a piece of a poem from my journal, iris inspired—

Meanwhile, in the meadows, on the ridges
the irises stand under the sun. Their bulbs
are ancient,  older than dairies, older than barns.
That's why they will tell you easily
vociferously, demanding you listen—
stand down out of your  own way,
so the purple gleam of Always,
that old ecstasy, may turn you
lush as this ridge, this bay, this matriarchy
of bulbs, all gleaming.

Kee kee, call the osprey.
Time for tea.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What is it About Grace

A little poem, written a moon ago, about grace, about life, about the land I love, Point Reyes. 

What is it about grace—
how it comes down upon you
in the form of a sunrise
over the green knuckles
of Black Mountain, a lick of peach

across the bay, then all at once
the whole star, balanced there
at the edge and rising, how in
that moment you know 
that you are watching the earth 

Yes. That should be enough to bring
you to your knees, but then there are
the woodpeckers, laughing, and
the robins, calling, and the light coming in
on the wooden walls, on the man you love,


but what is it about grace
which is also the silver body of a gray
squirrel at the bottom of the hill,
one leg crushed in the middle of
the road called Sir Francis Drake,
how she is staring from great black
eyes and writhing to get up
but you know she will never get up again,
and what is grace if not also mercy?
How can you leave her there in the road
to be flattened a dozen more times
before lunch? What is this world,
with the bodies of animals crushed
into its roads like old shoes?

It doesn’t feel like grace
when you, shaking, turn the car
around and come back
knowing it will be her swiftest death
knowing you have no knife, no hammer
to finish her fast. It doesn’t feel like grace,
the small thump under the wheel, how dying
her whole silver tail waves like a banner
three times before it’s still.

You roll her out of the road with two sticks.
Her body is perfect and limp, save the
red bloom of her head. She is silver and clean
as a moon, setting behind Black Mountain
in the daylight. You cover her in hanging moss
and wild vetch and say words
for her squirrel soul and it feels like grace
her final peace, that she suffered less
than she might have

and yet she stays there in you
later when, at the edge of the world
with the man you love, at the edge of the world
where you can see the gray whales
swimming south to Baja, there is a tiny beach
far below where mother elephant seals have come
and given birth to wrinkled babies, dark as
silt, with velvet skins that bunch up around their
necks, just like big coats.

They are lounging;
no other word for it
babies nosing their mother’s bellies for milk,
sweeping sand up on their bodies with their flippers
to cool down the sun which rose over
Black Mountain and will set in the sea.

Nothing can touch them here, only
the sun, and the edges of the
lace long tide, coming and going.

In all of this grace, and the whole impossible
span of the ocean, and the cliffs of Point Reyes
a great curving bowl, a great long arm,
the great journeys of elephant seal, and whale

there is also the gray squirrel,
who didn’t make it across the street
this morning
and how impossibly lustrous

her silver tail.

-Inverness, February 2015

Monday, March 2, 2015

Buried in Quilts of Pine Pollen Dreaming

In the places where ghosts might be sleeping, it is good to bring gifts. We brought bishop pine pollen and shook it, yellow veils that could turn anything to joy. 

I want to show you the pathway into my March Tinderbundle. The word is BURY. The word came out of a place, a day, a walk into a sleeping world protected in its dreams, in its brambles and tall grass, a day shared with a very special kindred spirit, whose artwork will grace this bundle instead of my watercolors this month— Catherine Sieck. This Tinderbundle is the secret alchemy between two adventuring wild-hearts (mine and Catherine's, bearing picnic foods and notebooks and one cup of chai between us) and a sleeping place with bones buried in its earth and benevolent spirits at its gables.

Catherine Sieck's incredible paper cut work! 

This is a sacred place. A place half-forgotten, protected in its forgottenness. I will keep its name in the earth for now.  I don't know the real one any way, the true one named thousands of years ago. The bishop pines dusted it all in pollen. Each one of these towers, these strange ladders of catkin, unfurled quilts of pollen when touched, silken. Initiating us into this descent into a brambled dream in a cove on the edge of Tomales Bay.

Quiet your eyes, and your mind. Pluck a hair from your head and leave it as a gift for the wind. You are entering a place out of time, pollen dusted, buried in vine. 

Step in through the world-round window, step in through the tin rippled door. 

A great bishop pine not giant fifty years ago watches over the ruined redwood cottages, veiling them in silken exhalations of pollen. For thousands of years Coast Miwok people lived in this cove. Without a doubt their bodies are buried here. There is a sense in the air of benevolent eyes, benevolent hands who love this land very, very dearly, who found joy here, despite all hardship. A sense that you must come here bearing love, or be chased away. In the late 1800's, a Coast Miwok family built the cottages here, working on ranches and as fishermen to stay afloat in a world utterly changed. It was no doubt a hard life, and yet unlike so many of their people, they were able to stay on their ancestral land. This land. They were not taken away. 

Later, in the 1960's, an artist of great and whimsical heart bought the abandoned cottages just before Point Reyes became National Seashore. He painted and built and dreamed here until 1996, when he died. His name was Clayton Lewis, and his was a happy place, and the ghosts who lived here before him liked him, I think; he saw beauty like they did. He honored it, his whole life here. You can feel it everywhere; how people have loved this place. 

I say these facts and names because it is good to honor the dead, those who came before; but also this is a place of no names, a place out of  time. The glass is blown out of the windows. The houses are drifting back into the arms of the land--ivy and eucalyptus and pine. Daffodils from some long ago garden bloom and so do calla lilies but the grass and hedgenettle are taller, fiercer. 

Birds fly down chimney pipes, and die, and make piles of bones.

Buried in green. It will all soon be buried in green. Asleep inside the thickets. And I am reminded of the Sleeping Beauty tale. Not the girl, nor the prince, nor the spindle, but the sleeping realm overgrown in thorns. The way the land heaves upward to protect, to bury, to hold, something precious. I find I agree with Ursula Le Guin, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, who lament that wakening kiss, who cry out that the heart of the story is this "still center," as Le Guin writes, "the silent house, the birdsong wilderness" (Sylvia Townsend Warner). (From Le Guin's essay "The Wilderness Within: The Sleeping Beauty and 'The Poacher'")

Asleep; Arthur is asleep on Avalon, his bones in earth; Mother Holle sleeps in the ground, in some great barrow; Snow White and Brynhild and Oisin sleep too. There are so many stories of sleeping queens and heroes whose bones protect a place, who will rise up at last when the land which sleeps with them is in need of their protection.

Asleep, this place dreams in green ladders and windows opened with vine.

It dreams in tiny sacred towers whose windows are air and eucalyptus naves, where the light ghosts through, blue.

It dreams in bobcat prints along the sandy bay shore, walking slow in the shading cypress trees, in the slip slap lap of salt water, the peering faces of harbor seals and mergansers in the rippling blue. 

To wake such a place-- this would mean tearing down or fixing up, bulldozers or tins of paint and hammers and a neatened pathway down, a sign marking the way. This is a thought almost physically painful for me to bear. There are too few places left in this world to the rhythms of simultaneous collapse and rebirth; too few places left in the quiet of kinglet and raven calls to dream. Too many places ripped out of their ancient sleep. I can only say--let it fall, let it fall, let it fall at the pace of this dreaming, no faster, no slower.

Catherine and I, we dreamed with it for a while, touching the wooden doorframes gently, with love, spilling out offerings of chai and strands of hair and soft words, because it is always good to give something in exchange. We spoke quietly, like we were in the homes of dreamers. We sat barefoot in sun like two cats and the word BURY came out of it all, a word whose root is bhergh, related to barrow and burrow, borough and burg and borrow, and, amazingly, the name of the goddess Brigid, the root meaning to protect, to defend, to preserve, as well as a dwelling, a hilltop place, defensible (barrows are also hills, after all...). Buried treasure. Buried seeds. Buried bones. Deep burrows, protecting moles from snakes. The ground the body of the mother, the earth, the goddess, protecting. Things buried rise again, when they are ready. 

What an enormous honor and joy it is to work with the wonderful Catherine
We gathered yarrow, green feathers standing up from the earth. I took them home and cut them up, poured oil over them, and buried the jar in my garden. An old world way to keep your medicine temperature controlled, dark, cool, but also, I think, to infuse it with the great old electric earth, protected entirely in her hands. 

And we gathered leaves and sticks and seedpods from the sleeping place itself. I laid them on raw silk and wrapped them to make an ecoprint, in the tradition of the incredible India Flint, then buried both bundles in the earth too.

The yarrow, the bundled fabric, they are dreaming now in the ground, treasure to be unearthed anew, and given to you. Along with a story, the story that this sheltered cove of  cottage and raven and kind spirits wants to tell. This is a secret, yet. A secret that will fly to your doorstep by the darkness of the moon, March 20th, when it is buried in the sun's shadow, if you so desire.... 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dancing in the Moss-Fetlocked North

This hammered-tin witch on her bicycle with her tender wings, her flaming hair, the little person hitch-hiking the back of her wheels— she is a proper gate keeper for the Honey Grove shed, where she stands guard. She is a proper gate-keeper for Honey Grove itself, for the process of transformation that occurs when you step up the deceptively simple, alder-lined road and into the world Nao and Mark and Gus (faithful hound) have created here, on some six acres in the middle of fir forest on the eastern edge of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

I visited Honey Grove for the first time in October of 2013, where I wrote the Gray Fox Epistle The Honey Mill , inspired by Honey Grove, and met Nao, a beekeeper, dancer, green thumb farm-garden tender, (and an early Gray Fox Epistle subscriber) for the first time. She has since become a very dear, very close friend (a gift from the internet web of connections indeed). This time around, my visit was centered around two of Nao's sacred dance offerings, but above all things it was a slipping out of time, and into slowness. 

(Let me just add here that any of you longing for a quiet and deeply restorative escape, look no further than Nao and Mark's Honey Grove cottage, here)

This is what Honey Grove will do to you. These firs, and cedars, and the bees, and some alchemy between all of this and the man and woman and dog who keep this land, who tend it, and who it tends in turn. The tin-witch should be a sign. You are entering territory Out of Time. You are entering Bee Time, Fir Time, Raspberry Time, Hen Time. Where all things are allowed to proceed at precisely their own internal pace. No faster, no slower either. 

And so, before telling you about dancing up mountain lions; before telling you about fields full of the hands of light, and how the sky is all eagles, I want to show you a small glimpse of the good magic of Honey Grove. 

How the crocuses came up one morning, where they hadn't been before. Gold filagreed. Grails rising from the ground, cupping spring. How this is a thing to bow down before, up north. In some ways the landscape of British Columbia, with its firs and spotted towhees, feels familiar to the California I know. And yet the winters are darker, and colder, and when a crocus comes up you drop what you're doing. At home, the yellow faces of calendula bloom all year. There are lemons on the trees. The bees don't stop flying. This is its own gift, but there is something in the still cold dark, and then that cup of gold, that crocus. 

While meanwhile, the dead raspberry caps hang, holding raindrops, holding ghosts, holding moons. 

In the little alder wood that lines the driveway, there is a quiet bewitchment afoot. I mean it. This mushroom is glowing. 

There are beings at work here that cannot be seen, who ask, who receive--this is the dance Nao and Mark and Gus dance, here. This is what it means, to have the land working you, creating you, as much as you work and create it. (This is what Nao tells me, and what I see when I look and listen and sit, here.) Maybe it's just the mycelium, down there netting trees together like neural synapses, whispering. Just. Mycelium; magic; little folk—they are nearly the same, in my mind. Maybe all the way the same. So many words for the same stories. The sun is a burning star, eating gas. The sun is a god riding a chariot, afire. The sun is in love with the field of grass, and feeds it. The chlorophyll in green blades and leaves photosynthesize sun into sugar. 

So. The mushroom is glowing, and in its glowing it is saying something mysterious and deeply important, something it might take a lifetime to understand.

There are worlds caught in the cobwebs. 

The trees have great feathers of moss at their fetlocks, some old horses from the beginning of time, now slowed down to trees, but always listening, and grazing at sun. 

This is the world of Honey Grove, the space I stepped into for a week which felt like one long breakfast, one long afternoon tea, one long evening by the woodstove, in which my body-time took over my mind-time. And good grief, what a relief that was!

 The first morning, Nao and I sat down with ample cups of tea and discussed that evening's dance class, where I was going to present a little bit about the natural history of the mountain lion before she led us into the kind of sacred embodied dance experience that only Nao can hold space for, in the way that she does. I will get to this in a moment. 

Photo taken in California in spring 2013 in California of what I am almost sure is a mountain lion track, filled here with hazel catkin in honor of her passing through
We talked, Nao and I, about the way of mountain lions--how they are pure meat eaters, their entire being centered around the hunt; how the rest of their days, they spend napping as cats do, in sun patches, in shadows; how when they travel they take the paths of least resistance, moving as water does, gathering and gathering energy until the moment of the hunt, that great focused pounce; how their canine teeth have nerves that run to the very tips, which can feel out the spaces between vertebrae in order to snap the spinal cord fast and merciful; how they cut open their prey with surgical precision, going for the heart, literally; female mountain lions can't synthesize vitamin A, which is vital for their reproductive health—they get it only from the organs of other animals. How the mountain lion is all languor, all energy conservation, until the moment of attack and consumption; how she goes right for the heart, knowing precisely what she is hungry for, and with no remorse. 

Have you ever seen such beauty? I can hardly bear those eyes. Photo credit here. 
And so when we danced, under Nao's guidance, we danced not only our hungers, letting mountain lion lead us there, unashamed to know what we might want in this life, but also the dance of water, which does not try to split a rock in two but rather smoothly flows around it, like the lioness on ridgetops, in dry creekbeds, going the easeful way.  

I learned something very profound (to me) in all of this—how much energy gets shot off like twanging rubberbands from unnecessary fretting and stress; how the mountain lion takes the path of least resistance and naps long in the sun because she knows exactly how much she's going to need for that pounce. How the term "the path of least resistance" itself makes me cringe; and yet to the mountain lion it doesn't mean laziness, or not trying hard enough—it means wise conservation of energy. It means appreciation of energy, of body, of spirit, of when a lot is needed, and when a little, and how both are good. 

We, as humans, as artists, as makers, as dreamers, might have to pounce every day on one thing or another, but how might our paths between each pounce be languid? Why not enjoy that triangle of sun, coming through? This life is short; why is it we are taught to treat the whole thing like a fight or a flight? Why not savor between each act of precision and focus; why not stretch in the sun, and follow the smooth way, like the cougar? Really, why ever not? I have no idea. It seems glaringly obvious that yes if at all possible, we should bathe in sun beams, even if for a minute; and we should close our eyes to the taste of good tea, and to the lives of birds, singing, and all the other small things which can spell languor in our human lives. 

This is what came out of Nao's dance class in the woodfire-warm yurt of a rainy evening in February, as she gently guided each song and we women danced the round floor, finding the old animal wisdom in our bones. In Nao's words, from her website, this class, and the others in its series...

... is dedicated to uncovering our wild intelligence, what British Storyteller Martin Shaw calls the “primordial root relationship between ourselves and the living world.”

Together, we will journey to the place of instinct and wild uncivilized knowing. Each class will be dedicated to exploring the nature of a particular animal through the living ritual of dance.

The invitation is to come into connection with the wisdom of our own animal bodies and then to follow the cellular intelligence there into the landscape of psyche/soul, into the indigenous territory of self.

She writes also --

To dance freely is to begin to release material that cannot be accessed through the vehicle of the intellect. If we let our minds rest for a while and let the wisdom body lead us, something profound can happen. What occurs is a kind of healing that has to do with connecting the heart with the head, and the body with the soul.

Dance is something that human beings have been doing since the beginning of time. Honest expression in the form of dance is deeply rooted in the nature of who we are. Creative movement can be a transformative experience that can lead to upsurges of emotion, and these feelings are doorways to deeper understanding. Our task is to help ourselves and each other to listen and be, without the obstructions of a judging mind and the paralyzing effects of self-consciousness. From here, an awareness opens and the territory of transformation is realized.

Gus the Wise Man hound, who knows all of this inherently and would likely wonder why I am spending so long writing about it, when I should just be savoring the smell of the night and not worrying about precise language....
I see what Nao does as storytelling through the body. It is very old stuff, this. How dance is the body's way of expressing its own mythos, its own understanding of the world. How the mind might learn much from this, and from being quiet. For a long time I had a hangup around the idea of dancing--that it had to be performative, and choreographed, but now I see that dance might be the oldest art of all—the body, reveling in its animal nature; the body, telling stories of what it has seen, and felt. Nao is a very special, very powerful gatekeeper in this regard, letting the strands of inspiration she has gathered from old tales and mystics and poems come down from somewhere through her, into her dancers, and then, I imagine, onward into the great big ground. 

It was an honor and quite a joy to share this round space up north with Nao and her dancing women. My visit also overlapped with a workshop Nao and her friend Jessie Turner, a wonderful jewelry-smith and creative visioner, created together, called Conceiving the Muse. We explored the mother of the muses, Mnemosyne, who embodies what Nao called "Divine Remembrance," that very important act of really assimilating something-- a place, a bird, a conversation--in the remembrance of it, the burying of it in the body and then unearthing it again as some reflection which reminds you that all things are divinely connected, and Zeus, the Sky, the spark, the ignition. We explored how the act of creating is this combination of remembrance and activation, a constant dance—the field, the sun; the field, the sun. 

The field cannot grow without the focused light of the sun. Nor can it grow without the remembrance of all life held in the wet earth. We live, it feels to me, in a world obsessed with activation and ignition. I myself am a bit obsessed with activation and ignition. I'm almost constantly in activation mode, I'll admit it. But when we danced the field and the sun of the poem below (by the Persian mystic-poet-prostitute Rabia) and I was assigned the field—let me tell you, I've known few things as glorious as dancing myself a blade of grass, and then savoring the many hands of the sun. 

This is what the mountain lion does in between the great ignition of her pounce: she savors. 

The Way the Forest Shelters


I know about love the way
the field knows about light
the way the forest shelters

the way an animal's divine raw desire
seeks to unite with whatever
might please its soul--without a
single strange thought of remorse.

There is a peaceful delegation in us 
that lobbies every moment
for contentment.

How will you ever find peace
unless you yield to love

the way the gracious earth does
to our hand's