Monday, May 5, 2014


"Going in search of the heart, I found
a huge rose, and roses under all our feet!

How to say this to someone who denies it?
The robe we wear is the sky's cloth.

Everything is soul and flowering."


Sometimes it feels to me that looking into the pollen-dusted center of a flower is just that--looking into its soul, which is not hidden away but boldly there for all the bees and hummingbirds and wandering humans to see.

In the past week, the season passed on light, poppy-pollen gold feet from the tender new flush of spring into the full bloom and coming dryness of our summer. I always feel that here, the beginning of summer is Beltane, May 1st, the old pagan holiday of fertility and bloom, and not June 21st. The hills are already tinged gold. The nettles are going to seed. The buckeye is in full intoxicating bloom.

In our own rambling yard, the kiwi is flowering, a perfect, moon-made flower for that furred and strange and delectable green-fleshed fruit that is to come.

And in the spirit of flowering, and the pathways of the seasons, this May Day, I had a very special visitor, a woman whose heart is full of blossom and seed and root, Asia Suler, the magic-maker and herbalist behind One Willow Apothecaries.

Asia is a medicine maker of great power and old, storied magic. I now have a little collection going of her seasonal medicines, each timed with the cycles of the plants and stones and our human hearts too, full with such ancient wonders as turmeric and tulsi, sassafras and moonstone, hawthorn berry and rose blossom, maple sap and crocus essence. I can attest first-hand that these are magnificent and powerful medicines; that they twine up from your soles to your crown like the blooming of May's flowers, clearing and opening and brightening all the shadowed or stiff or cobwebbed places that need it, just when they do.

We wandered the fog-held valleys and windy trails of Tomales Point, where the tule elk roam. It is a place of ancient and quiet strength, the matriarchal wisdom of elk-cows in their birthing herds, and the great, queenly bulb-patches of purple iris.

It was an honor and great fun to wander together through a thickness of pastel-sweet wild radish and cow parsnip, our soles tracing out some yet-unmade, yet-undreamed medicines across the paths, some yet untold stories made of mineralled stone and coiled root and purple iris petal.

For after all, it seems to me that stories are medicine, and medicine is made of story.

And the paths we walk, the act of walking, can bring us right back into that flowering, storied soul-- our own, and the world's, wearing the sky's robe, our feet gentle as rosebuds. 

I have been reading Robert MacFarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, and it has caught my heart deeply; be sure you will see more of it here later this week. For now I want to share the following passage, which clicked open a little lock in my mind, as good writing often does-- an idea heard and known before, presented anew, that finally comes fully alive. 

"The best known connection between footfall, knowledge and memory is the Aboriginal Australian vision of the Songlines. According to this cosmogony, the world was created in an epoch known as the Dreamtime, when the Ancestors emerged to find the earth a black, flat, featureless terrain. They began to walk out across this non-place, and as they walked they broke through the crust of the earth and released the sleeping life beneath it, so that the landscape sprang up into being with each pace. As Bruce Chatwin explained in his flawed but influential account, 'each totemic ancestor while travelling through the country, was thought to have scattered a trail of words and musical notes along the line of his footprints.' Depending on where they fell, these foot-notes became linked with particular features of the landscape. thus the world was covered by 'Dreaming-tracks' that 'lay over the land as ways of communication,' each track having its corresponding Song." (page 30).

My Earth Constellation sketches for the week are also Songlines, Tracklines, Dreamlines. The red alder tree is also a great old wayfaring path, the bare human footprints have eyes in their soles, and each being is hitched to a set of lines... the traces of their literal tracks, coming and going; the lines they make through their own ecosystems, each being a thread in a great web; the lines they make with their hearts and their animal and plant dreams; the stories that unfold from all of these things.

Elklines, nettlelines, otterlines, ospreylines, hedge nettlelines. And also: the elk are calving, the osprey are here and hunting and maybe breeding, the stinging nettles are seeding, the hedgenettle is growing big, the buckeye spires are blooming, the river otters are pupping.

I imagine these "lines" unfurling before and after each being like narrow paths amidst the coastal scrub, amidst so many other stories, each utterly wild and its own. 

We can't forget all the lines made by the beings just under the skin-surface of the earth, like this magnificent, fresh, new moon entrance to an American badger dig. 

And then there are the histories of human places that leave their own pinwheel of storylines, like the old hay barn of Tomales Point's Pierce Point Ranch,  rising up through the fog and the drying fields of radish and cowparsnip like a ghost or a memory. In part of my imagination, it now holds within its peaked ceiling caverns the tallow-makers in last June's Epistle, Amelia and the Elk Tallow Moon.  But that is only one of many stories held in its lined beams, in its dust motes, beneath its foundation. I often wonder if it is lonely now, without people and cows to be its heart and its dreams, but maybe it prefers the fog, the ocean wind, the mice and foxes, the coyotes and barn swallows, the passing elk. Maybe that is more peaceful, as they leave their own tracklines through and under and over and around it.

It seems to me that animals and plants and stones and clouds always reside in that space of timeless creation that Aboriginal peoples have beautifully called Dreamtime. I wonder what it is like, Elktime. I wonder what it is like, walking the Elklines.

Elk create their own spidery footpaths through the land, as you can see here on the far hillside, while a small female herd rests among the cowparsnip, and is very difficult to discern from those big white umbels. They rest their bellies on the ground, and their growing calves, floating in that dreaming wombtime, can perhaps hear the songlines of the old earth of Point Reyes herself, moving north.

"Footfall as a way of seeing the landscape; touch as sight—these are notions to which I can hold." (Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways, page 29). 

Here's to the footpaths of new friendship, of the new deepening summer season, of the old elk and all the beings their own elklines are hitched too, from oatgrass to vole to mountain lion to faraway hunter's star. 


  1. Sylvia - I just finished The Old Ways which I read simultaneously with Wild Places because I just couldn't get enough of it. I expect to devour anything MacFarlane has written. He writes so beautifully and is insightful. I felt a strong connection with the ideas in The Old Ways.

    1. I know, he is a magnificent writer, good heavens. The Old Ways is just stunning. Thanks for visiting, Abby! xx

  2. Wonderful green journey. Here in the New England, its seems spring is paddling a long, slow canoe to get here, stopping in some other mossy forest. Lovely to see all the flowering and hiding elk herd. Thanks for the reminder about "The Old Ways" - it was recommended and forgotten. I'm heading off to look it up!!

    1. Thank you Valerianna! Yes, do go find The Old Ways posthaste, it is fabulous.

  3. <3 Beautiful Sylvia. I was honored to wander in such wonder with you. Oh, the soft watercolor of all those radishes and parsnips! This visit will live in me forever. Thank you dear friend! <3 Asia

    1. As was I dear friend, Asia, Poetess and Medicine-Woman!! Your visit is still taking root and blooming; I feel that there is so much more magic to come. Wishing we could bob about in the cow parsnip with tea on the regular! Love.