Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Book is Born: Presenting Tatterdemalion!

Dear friends and wild hearts, 

I have a glorious thing to tell you this Imbolc morning.

Today, a Book is Born! 

<<Books here! >>

(For the very eager among you, look no further than the image above and click through for your book!)

It is a book many years in the making, a collaboration between myself and the extraordinary artist Rima Staines. 

Come, follow us down the lane and through the hedge... 

... along the path all damp with the humus of leaves...

... between the gnarled old oaks whose branches are roots and whose roots are branches....

...and far out across the fields you know...

There, beyond the waters of the rain-made well, speaking the tongues of the Wild Folk, lives our magical book. 

It is called Tatterdemalion, and it is being published by Unbound. This means the book depends directly on you, dear and blessed readers, to be birthed into this good world. 

If you are as excited as we are, you can cut to the chase and PRE-ORDER YOURS RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT, look no further. Click right here. You can always come back and finish reading my ramblings later. They aren't going anywhere. :-) 

Tatterdemalion began several years ago when one of Rima's beautiful paintings sparked a doorway in me, a doorway into another world that led me, wielding my pen, through thirteen more of her paintings, the result of which was a novel in fragments that, stitched together, creates a whole mythology.

Then, this past autumn, I at last had the pleasure and the privilege of visiting Rima (and Tom, and the Boy) on mythic Dartmoor. 

I slept in a bell tent in a cow field...

... and woke up to mist over stone barns, dreaming of horses and ships, thinking of old tales and hawthorn trees.

Tatterdemalion came with me (in spirit, in the way that books travel with their writers wherever they go, sometimes sitting up inside the soul and saying yes, this.) It seems the book wanted to visit the land of heather and gorse...

...of Bronze Age ruins and the great hills of bracken. To walk the old, old roads laid by ancestral hands five thousand years ago.

For Tatterdemalion is rooted equally in Old European folklore and a wildly reimagined Northern California a few centuries in the future. The book had lived and journeyed with me in the wilds of Point Reyes and the Sierra Nevada for several years, and it was time for it to absorb the old, old bone-deep wisdom of Dartmoor, of Rima's England. (For more on what the book is about, well, you'll just have to visit it's official page here!)

During this time I met with the wonderful folk of Unbound (at which point Tatterdemalion sat up inside me and said yes, this!), a publisher that is revolutionary in the sense that they put the fate of books directly into the hands of readers; they foster a community of readers that supports writers. In an increasingly corporatized publishing world, this is a breath of fresh air. It means that we walk this road together, author and readers, this old road of story shared between hearts.

So, practically speaking, what this means is that we have a crowdfunding campaign now up on Unbound's website, where you can pre-order a copy of the book (ebook, hardback, signed!), along with many other special things, including exclusive classes, prints, and tickets to a Hedgespoken launch party! And the sooner we reach our fundraising goal (the cost of printing the book), the sooner it will be in your hands!

This book was created with a deep and fierce love. It was written with all of my heart, through the doorways in Rima's revolutionary artwork. It is a great honor, and joy, to birth it into the world with your help.

On that note, if (once you go view the book itself and the accompanying film ) this rings bells in your heart, we would be so grateful if you shared it with any and all folk you think might feel the same!

We are ridiculously excited to be sharing this book with you; do come along and join us!

With Love,

Sylvia & Rima

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Calendar of Willows & of Waves

In the beginning of December, my dear friend Nao Sims (of Honey Grove) came to visit from British Columbia. You know that feeling with a friend who is kin—how you step into another kind of time. How you go to a place that is an eternal hearthside, an endless seat by the fire with a cup of wild tea and a conversation that you've been having always. 

Nao and I did a lot of literal sitting by the fire with tea and talking, taking up that old and eternal dialogue. We did a lot of wandering too, and gathering plants for said tea (usnea, bishop pine, fresh yarrow sprigs, plantains, yerba buena).

We visited the old growth redwoods of Muir Woods, a place I haven't been since I was a girl, though I grew up right next to it, because it is always overrun with tourists. But ancient redwoods are too important to miss when visiting California, and we found that their immense size and age absorbed all of us human visitors like a great benediction. They are a cathedral, and everyone, no matter how perfumed, how carefully groomed, lowers their voice, and cranes up. 

There is nothing like an old growth redwood tree, after all, to set you straight about eternity. 

Such a tree (born probably around 900 or 1000 AD) is Time, as far as I'm concerned. As far as any of us, and the sword ferns, and the northern spotted owls, and the moles, are concerned. Such a tree is all the air and the water and the wind and the nourishment of stones for a thousand years, in one column of fibrous and silent bark, in one column of smoldering light. And it is this Time that we touch with dear friends, with beloveds, in the dark heart of winter. It is this Time that we are always swimming in, if we slow down and reach our hands out to living things, to remember.

When Nao left, I felt disoriented for at least a day. Time, which was the vast silence of a redwood tree, which had been moving in circles, or not moving at all, bent straight again. Things To Do loomed. The tea kettle and the eternal hearth had to be again gathered up inside, to be tended there. 

This was in the dark dip of winter just before the solstice, when, to me, the world and the night and the solace of silence seemed to gather the thickest, rain in the air, soothing me to the very quick. 

Then, suddenly, the days turned into January, and the nettles began to press up through the muddy earth, and I find myself resisting, wanting to dig under ground with the roots of trees, not ready for the movement, the way the days on the calendar seem to fly by again (the 21st, how did it become the 21st?).  In part my resistance has to do with the long drought these past years, and a terror that summer will come again too fast, too soon, too long; that the winter will be over before I blink an eye, that I will not have properly beheld the Rain. But it also has to do with our cultural conception of time, the ticking off of days and weeks as numbers in a long line that seems to be eaten up behind us. 

And then, recently, something occurred to me about Time. It was born out of my days with Nao, and my days embracing midwinter, and the low, low voices of the redwood trees. It is not a new idea, but as with all useful ideas, I had to come to it on my own, through my own body, in order to really understand it. It's a thought I've had before, but this year, it has really taken root. 

Only in the human mind is time a line. And only some human minds in certain cultures, for some spans of human history. Everywhere else—for the deer, for the dunes, for the bishop pine, for the toyon, for the Coast Miwok, the first people of this place—it is Always, and also right now. Everywhere else besides the modern calendar, there are circles, and inside those circles is an ease, because circles are the shape of the planet, and our star, our moon, and everything in our solar system. Circles are the shape of solace.

I think our bodies and minds actually resist the Straight and Narrow, resist moving in a clear line, because they understand what everything else understands—that we are right here where we are, with the fruiting toyon and the cold earth and the long nights, and we are also made of the eternal, every edge and seam touching Myth Time, the time of Creation, the beginning of the world. It's just that our minds are very strong, and like to make rules; they have the capacity to accept lines, and even like lines, and they mold themselves easily to dominant narratives (by no fault of their own-- we are made to absorb story and we do it by default from the moment we are born). 

What occurred to me more specifically about Time had to do with experiencing the world not as a series of boxes and numbers, as our calendars subtly imprint upon our minds, but rather reaching out to the land around me and allowing Foam Time, Ocean Time, Toyon Time, Newt Time, Rain Time, more fully in. What does this turning of the moon right now mean for the tides, and what does it mean for the rain, and how do they interact? What are the newts doing right now? What is the weather up to, the great oceanic currents and atmospheric rivers? What does Right Now mean to the toyon, the river otter, the great blue heron? How can I wrap myself up in the this rhythm of Time, stand within it, instead of the numbers and the boxes?

For me, really allowing these many layers of Time in has begun as a practice of observation, of journaling, of documentation. And it has started not with the name of a month (January, after the Roman god Janus, with one head in the new year and the other into the old year, god of thresholds), but with the moon. One new moon to the next, a circle of days divided into four quarters—(new, waxing quarter, full, waning quarter)—with frogs and bobcat tracks, migrating newts and swollen creeks threaded with pencil & watercolor around the wheel. Literally documenting for myself, based on my personal experience, the lives of plants and animals and waters as they change through the changing of the moon feels to me like making a basket. A basket made of moon, and of the many threads of more-than-human time, each different, calibrated to a different inner life-rhythm, but also the same, aligned with everything, as they have been since the beginning of Creation. 

In the middle of that basket, I feel at ease. I feel at home. I feel like this measuring of time makes sense to me. 

from the Winter Solstice & surrounding weeks, 2014 (copyright Sylvia Linsteadt)

Last year, from 2014 through 2015, I created eight of these hands, one every six weeks, charting a "feral palm reading" of the land during those weeks. They accompanied the eight installments of Elk Lines. It is a similar idea to the calendar of moons I am describing above, only a little bit less of a documentation tool, and more a synthesis of weeks and moments. When my first moon to moon calendar is finished, I will certainly share it with all of you-- as I think this is a wonderful tool for each and every one of us to explore if we feel so called. For now, imagine this palm and its beings turned into a circle marked by moons, woven in a basket-round of the many threads of Time....

There's Elk Time, in which the great antlers of summer and fall (some longer than my arms, six tined and shining). grown heavy for the rut and the time of mating, are dropping. The calves born in April and May are almost full grown, but still keep close to their mothers.

The mother elk, lounging in the grass, are pregnant, their babies still tiny, gestating through the long nights of winter, waiting to be born when the grass is tall and the irises in full purple bloom.

In Bobcat Time, the days are made of the plump bodies of overwintering coots, the little black birds who carpet the lagoons and bays at this time of year.

This bobcat scat is marking an obvious crossroads, & a trail down through the pines
In Bobcat time, courting is well underway, the males tracing paths deeper and deeper into the territories of females, each feeling out the other. These are great mysteries though, and such evidence seldom seen...

In Coyote Time, courtship is a dance of paws across the sand; it is heady midnights trotting the open strands, paws flicking sidelong with joy, with flirtation. I like to imagine them, trotting far, panting in great grins, nipping and yelping and whirling under a dark sky. 

In Moss Time, well, it is the time of green glory. Of drinking. Of utter saturated delight.

In Bracken Time, it is the time of dying, of rust-colored old leaves, and the promise of new ones waiting underground.

In Hemlock Time, it's the time of barrenness, of seeds sodden with raindrops, of utter quiet. 

In Hill Time it's the time of new green, bright and close as cut velvet.

In Willow Time, it's the time of bare branches like a gentle fire across the marsh. And it's the time of the very first new velveteen buds, like the tiny soft ears of voles.

Leaves are still a long way off, but in Willow Time, the day the silver buds first emerge is exactly the right and only day for them to emerge, because it simply Is. Willows don't fret about how long they got to be quiet in their roots, because during that time they were all the way there, in the roots, no worries about past or future. Now, when the buds come, it is because it is time for the buds to come. Resisting any of it would only cause struggle, and strife. Resisting any of it would be, well-- very much like a human, and not very much like a willow tree.

It's so easy to understand this on the land, through the eyes of our wiser animal & plant kin. It is so much harder to remember it ourselves. But the thing is, we don't need to remember any of this ourselves, all alone. We were never meant to be alone. We were always meant to look outward from ourselves and touch the things of the world— the elk, the rain, the nettles, the mud, the tracks of bobcats, the new willow buds—and through them understand where we are in the cycle of days, where we stand in the basket of time, how to navigate the tides of transformation.

"We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with," writes Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet,  "and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us." 

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Inner Rhythms of Winter

Here in the lichen green house all nestled in fruit trees, here in the sky blue attic dormer where the winter stars are clear at night despite the city lights (Orion, the Pleiades), I have been doing my best to move to the quiet and slower rhythms of winter. I love this season. I love the long nights and the frost in the morning. I love the rain (oh god, how I love it) and I love the birds that visit at this time of year and fill the air with sweet notes—cedar waxwings, ruby-crowned kinglets, varied thrush, pine siskins.

I love the lemons, ripening all at once like a thousand yellow morning stars. 

(Says Neruda of the lemon: 

So, when you hold
the hemisphere
of a cut lemon
above your plate,
you spill
a universe of gold,
yellow goblet
of miracles.)

I love the way the persimmon leaves (which have now fallen) turn to embers, turn to flame. There is a stillness I find harder and harder to find in this loud and sad and chaotic and bright-screened world, but I have been seeking it nevertheless, as the days dwindle and the light feels more and more like a low and smoldering hearthfire.

There is a savoring of small things through the senses, letting them rest thus in the house of the body, that this season asks of me, and so I am doing my best to listen, and taste, and smell, and feel, and behold. Most of all, to behold. John O'Donohue talks about beholding—how each day we have the opportunity to behold great and simple beauty. It doesn't matter where you are, there is always some beauty to see; it's just a matter of taking the time to see it. I like the world behold, because it is tactile, because it is about holding things inside of ourselves with our eyes. In the Old English and Old Anglo Saxon sense, bihealdan means not only to "hold in view" but to "belong to." I love this—that we can belong to the beauty we take the time to behold. I find that having something belong to me matters far less than belonging to something bigger than me.

Like the winter sun rising low and iridescent across the ocean. 

Like the vulture under a changing sky, riding thermals of rising heat. 

Like the scarlet intoxication of the ancient and magical fly agaric mushroom, keeper of primordial and dangerous wisdom. 

Like the sanddunes under the hands of late afternoon light. 

Once, the vast expanse of western San Francisco looked like this: covered in vast and blowing dunes, some one hundred feet high, where rare blue butterflies lived on the fragrant yellow lupines. Now, the dunes are all a memory, save the brief spit of sand at Ocean Beach; they are entirely flattened and forgotten. This puts sorrow in my heart, to think of the sand and the unhatched chrysalises there under the cement blocks of that place; but it also gives me a bittersweet seed to hold close; that by learning, and remembering, we keep the sand under the city alive. 

Out at Abbott's Lagoon, where the sand dunes still thrive, the coyotes are courting, dancing across the vast expanses side by side, paw prints tripping close but never quite overlapping, one coyote sometimes veering off in a giddy loop, flirtatious and full of the joy of fresh autumnal air, the gentle light, a beautiful pair of canine eyes...

The bobcats, meanwhile, are hunting the edge of the lagoon for the hapless and plump black coots, a favorite wintertime meal.

Newts are out in merry droves, making their annual pilgrimages from their summer estivation burrows to the creeks of their birth to mate. They walk slow and steady, so deliberate, so unswayed, their bellies and feet flashing an orange warning (they are highly toxic to everyone save the garter snake) that is the same color as the satsuma oranges whose flavor is the flavor of this time of year (and my childhood), and same as the bright skin of persimmons, whose fruit I crave throughout the summer, anticipating their arrival in fall. 

Under my hands there is knitting for various little nieces and nephews. Between my teeth are the roasted nuts of the bay laurel tree, which taste of the land I gathered them from, and of cacao and coffee and popcorn all at once. They are oily, and rich, and bitter, and give you a little zing right to the brain, like you are out walking in a wet forest with cold hands and a bright heart. These, too, I wait all year to cure, and roast, and savor. When the days grow darker, I start to crave them, like the persimmons, as if my body knows just what minerals it needs. The minerals of the dark season, its sweet, its strong, its smolder. 

And in my soul (the food it craves) these days are the words of poets—Dylan Thomas and Robinson Jeffers, Alan Garner (poetry written in prose form) and Ursula Le Guin (the same). And also the brilliant words of hedge-speaking poet Tom Hirons in his poem Sometimes A Wild God, illustrated by the wonderful Rima Staines. 

I had the pleasure and honor of visiting them at the beginning of fall—and there are some very exciting things (in Book Form) afoot, and close to fruiting, but these I cannot share quite yet for reasons you will soon see. Suffice it to say that the story of my adventures on Dartmoor, and this Wonderful Surprise, will be coming to you soon, but not just now... like the very earliest trillium wildflowers of January, waiting to bloom when the time is right.

This darkest time of year is the time to court silence and candlelight. This, it seems to me, is its rhythm, and this is also the rhythm of poets, hence this hunger for their words, which are hospitable to silence, which are cloaked in silence and shadow, all that empty space on the page.

Near Samhain I made a pilgrimage with my aunt to Tor House, the hand-hewn granite home of the magnificent Californian poet Robinson Jeffers and his beloved wife Una. 

It was their hearths that struck me almost more than anything—one for each room in that low stone and ocean-blown home, places to gather when the dark was so great outside that it was its own wild being. Jeffers went out every night to read the stars, to watch their movements as the ocean pounded just beyond the back gate, while inside, Una tended the fire, and played the melodeon, and filled the vast dark with an embered sort of beauty. They made their dreams their own, reads a quote (in Latin) carved into one of their walls; they made their  life to the rhythms of their own souls, and their home too. They did it with their hands, and with their dreaming.

This, to me, seems the way to do it. In the gathering dark, as the solstice nears, truths like this stand out more clearly, like the flame of a candle, stark against the shadows. That which is truly bright shines only more fully when the world goes quiet, and dim. 

In my body, the rhythms of autumn and winter have drawn me closer to bedrock; to earth and mineral and stone. To clay, and the working of it, and the delight of watching animals unfurl beneath my hands, and the wonder of learning about glazes, and the transmutations which occur within the kiln. Really, it is pure alchemy. (As are the roses that bloom suddenly in the middle of December in my mother's garden.)

These dark evenings are good for sewing skirts, and burning frankincense, and peering at the tiny (in)consistencies of the moss stitch. (Not a stitch to knit by candlelight!)

And they are good for dreaming, for letting the mind roam to all manner of whimsical lands, where leverets are raised by Wild Folk in wheeled caravans (readers of the Leveret Letters, when I saw this caravan parked on the side of the road in Bolinas, it reminded me so much of the wagon of the Greentwins, or the Basket-witches!), where such wagons might carry a true wandering bard, or a woman who is part goose, or an old man who can mend anything brought to him, including a lost soul.  Or an even older woman with an apron-full of healing herbs, and eyes with the granite of moving fault lines in them.

Out in the hills and forests of beloved Point Reyes the land offers up a thousand cups of tea to heal both the body and the spirit. It seems to me that such cups of tea must be gathered spontaneously, without agenda, open to what offers itself, and just enough for one pot of tea to be shared between friends-- as my dear friend Nao and I did a fortnight past, while she was visiting from British Columbia (more about that beautiful time soon).  Pine needles and plantain, usnea, yerba santa and tiny new sprigs of yarrow, sipped at the hearth of good friendship-- now truly, what could be better? Beholding the forest and hills upon the tongue, inside the belly; an act of communion. (The pine trees dropped some chunks of resin as gifts for Nao to take back north, for muscle-warming oils and salves like the one below.)

Medicines are curing patiently in the apothecary's cabinet (including the first round of a Reishi tincture from the treasured Ganoderma tsugae I found in the Sierras in August), and hanging up through the house, both for the medicine of color and beauty, and to be used in tea when the mood strikes (the pine). 

Meanwhile, sweet Hawthorn is glorious in his full coat, a great satin cloud, lustrous but needing to be shorn. I feel bad, to leave him ragged and close-cut on the darkest days of the year, but a coat left unshorn is very dangerous for an angora (he can ingest too much, and starve), so I will have to snip away soon. Though a bit stressful when we reach the underparts, shearing Hawthorn has become its own rhythm of stillness and soft words and the sudden bounty of wool in my lap, to be spun, and spun, until I have enough for a shawl. How marvelous-- a shawl made by this kind and wise being, and therefore made in large part of the garden plants he eats copiously-- calendula and radish, nasturtium, borage, lavender, comfrey. What a world it is, that such things are possible! We do not need to look far for magic...

It is dark here now, and time, I say, to turn out the lights, shut the screens, and light the candles. May these darkest nights of the year be filled with tea, and time for reflection, and words that nourish your whole soul, that spark little fires in you made of embers the world has never before seen. I find that making time to cut the electric lights, and sit in the glow of fire or flame, is the surest way to hear the quiet but strong voice of the season, whispering its rhythms. 

May you be warmed, may you find the hearth that is always smoldering inside.