Monday, January 15, 2018

Of murder and magic


All day long I stirred pebbles with my toe, looking for signs of life. 

I turned over every little stone. Memory. Poetry and song. Borrowed wisdom. Small caretakings of home and comfort. 

I watched this glorious time-lapse film of the sky, filled with tempests of clouds and thunderstorms. 

But still, no inspiration crept up from this dark moon ground. 

(The dark moon is the banishing time. Not the time to plant seeds, or grow, or harvest. 

But I did not think of that until later.)

Dissatisfied, I sent a bucket down into the well, seeking evidence that all was not empty. 

When I drew it up, all I found was the merest trickle of water, too little to drink. 

Just enough to remind me of the river, the sea that was not flowing through me—just enough to remind me of my thirst.


I didn't know what to do, but felt I must do something. So I moved my desk in front of the windows. 

For a while, I watched the northwest wind razor the new snow from the roof, flinging it in stinging white sheets against the frigid air.

Cold dark earth, surely this ground is not completely barren? Am I just quiet now, or have I nothing to say? And isn't that all right, if so. It doesn't feel all right.

Perhaps my "shoulds" have been silencing my "coulds"? 

That happens sometimes. 

Long I sat, feeling downcast, no whisper stirring from within or without. 

After a while, I became aware of a silent river of crows. 










Their dark shapes were flowing past the windows my desk now faces, winging to the northeast in beautiful, undulating motion. 

They flew in unknowable formations, in fronts and dozens, each following the other yet making his own path upon the sky. 

Blessing this woman's eyes with their grace. Bearing myth on their wings, magic in each darkling feather, kin stories millennias long in their shining black eyes. 

As the sun westered from mid-afternoon to dusk they streamed past, off and on, as if my house were an island in their sky-river. Juni (perched on the desk) and I watched in wonder. My own eyes began to shine; thrilled, delighted, enchanted. 

Maybe the crows, known as the mega murder, were flying to a roost along the Mississippi where they gather in thousands in winter?

It is a lovely discovery, to find my new home is in the middle of a Great Crow Flyway.





This magic belongs to this place and this day. Called to me or not, I am taking it as a message from the sky and the crows, that magic is there. Even when you can't see or feel it, it is there—right on the other side of your barriers, walls, shoulds. 

It is there, and it shows itself to you, wanting you to see it, calling you to see it. 





Friday, December 29, 2017

Stories for strugglesome times



Sleet falls from a quiet silver sky, frosting the edges of bare branches with a sifting of tiny crystalline stars.

Now the air numbs the skin like the slash of an ice knife, in that frozen moment between the slicing and the bleeding. 

Later I will go outside for a quick chilling of the bones. I have spent many days inside and cabin fever is setting in, which is what I like least about winter.

I wish I could say I was spending this inside time journaling, dreaming and creating; but it's useless as I am distracted by all the ways my house needs to be set in order. Plus, it's not really mine until I clean it. There is a lot to clean, and I'm not a fast cleaner, I'm the inefficient, meticulous sort. It takes a long time.

I'm slow at almost everything...cleaning, cooking, baking, grocery shopping, writing, processing things, getting ready for work in the morning, making decisions...I could go on. Hurrying goes against my nature, my preference for order and exactness.

I'm particularly slow at doing things involving lots of details, which trigger my compulsive tendencies.

Like cleaning a house full of paint-spattered woodwork and radiators with frustratingly unreachable dust crevices.

Sometimes I ask myself, does this behavior serve me...or do I instead serve it? Am I actually being unkind to myself? It's a fine line, and sometimes I observe myself crossing into warning territory.

That's when I need to make myself stop. Go outside. Break the pattern of whatever spell I'm binding about myself, which somehow transforms in the midst of its working from a beneficial magic to a malignant one. This much is good...that much is not.

On winter's bare white stage, one's dramas and dysfunctions play out starkly, in high relief. Maybe that's why we need good stories to escape into more than ever in wintertime. We can't always be brave, strong, and stoic—humans seek comfort in strugglesome times. Stories help get us through.

Do you have particular stories you read during difficult times? We have been rewatching the Harry Potter movies—but I suspect rereading the books would be more magical and more powerful. It's not as if they tell particularly comforting stories (in fact they're rather discomforting and discomfitting), it's more that they encourage us to believe that each of us is stronger than we realize, and that we can make a difference in the lives of others, and that we have a choice as to how to live so let's choose to be courageous and loyal and adventurous. Those ideas comfort and encourage me.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The undying fire



And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.

The Shortest Day, Susan Cooper




How it seems that as one grows older, people and times distant take on a glow of solstice fires. 

When you were in that experience, with those people, you had no thought it would come to an end. That your life would not ever expand outward into the world. That loved ones would fall away. That you would somehow—wandering a maze of seemingly disconnected blind turns—dead-end; not at the center but in an edgeland inhabited only by ghosts.

If you had known where your turns would lead you, would you have followed a different path? Useless thoughts, yet the question will be asked.  

Accept that this is your journey, every blind step of it. You are here. There is no "supposed to," only where you are.  Do you trust that is so?

But still, dear friends, I wish we could be together once more around the solstice fire. 

The shape of the celebration was never so important as that you and I were there together, laughing, as the living sparks flew up into the deep night like wishes, and the white owl watched in silence.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Dark tales, bright fires

I suspect that some of you brilliant people could write a scholarly essay on murder ballads and how they fit into the folk music tradition.

All I know is that this is an art form that's been around a long, long time. And still today murder ballads are being written and performed.

I love them for the stories they tell, their drama and intensity, and how exquisite music, voice and lyrics combine to heighten the tale-telling, make it breathe.

I love the art form's lack of irony, ennui or elliptical meanings—it's life and death in these songs. They feel like core stories about the good and ill in humans; stories that folk have been telling for millennia. Cautionary tales about the most powerful and destabilizing of emotions: jealousy, fear, love, passion, rage and grief. Inspiring stories of struggle and courage.

I love them thrice because they emanate a sense of timelessness and the mythic...these stories, and these characters, have taken many shapes and iterations. You can glimpse in them fairy tales, legends, folklore, myths, stories from the Bible, maybe even the cave paintings of Lascaux.

As we listen to the tales unfold, it's as if we sit around the village fire, together fearing for the characters in danger, uplifted by flashes of heroism. We empathize with their hardship, their life and death struggle.

They are like people we've known. They are like us.

It is winter here in the northern hemisphere, the long dark; it is time for tales by the fire. Listen....










Sunday, December 3, 2017

Empty rooms

Our former house, waiting for its new owners

You would think moving would be an exciting thing. A wonderful thing! A nothing-but-positive thing.

It feels like it should feel that way.

In my case, however, it was stressful and exhausting, confusing and destabilizing, anxiety-provoking and overwhelming.



Searching for a new place and leaving the old show you all kinds of things about yourself that you did not know, which is interesting, but also unsettling.

It shines a spotlight on how confused you may be about what you thought you wanted...and the possible life/lives you imagine you want to live...and how those imagined lives may or may not align with those of your partner...and what that may say about the compromises you are or are not willing to make.

It prompts questions about how much you can separate who you are from where you are.

Who am I when I am in this place, and not in that place? Will changing the status quo upend the life we have built, or enhance it (or both)?




Nobody talks about how selling your home feels like selling a piece of yourself, but it did. It felt like the breakup of a relationship; the painful separation and unwrapping of all the tendrils you have coiled around each other for mutual support.

Because one's home is an extension of oneself—do you feel that, too?

(At one time I had an unpleasant neighbor who, out of spite, cut off all the branches of my vine where it grew over the top of our border fence. When I later found it on the collapsed on the ground, deprived of its glorious tendrils, I felt as if I'd had all the air knocked out of me. Will you think me strange for saying how violent that felt? An ugly attack on a harmless, flourishing green thing that I tended and loved? Whatever we love is part of us.)

I just wanted to say that it is difficult to dismantle your life, to systematically erase yourself from a place where you've lived and dreamed for many years. Selling your home requires you to do so.

Selling was our choice, but I didn't expect letting go to be as emotional as it was. (One of the things I learned about myself, along with how much stuff I own, even though I never thought of myself as someone who owns many things. News flash: I DO.)

Walking through those small, loved, empty rooms for the last time, I thanked them for sheltering us, nurturing us, for being my sanctuary from a hard world and people who think nothing of destroying what is precious.

I told them that soon, good new people would move in, who want to garden, too. They have two cats too, and a dog; and they too love the way the light falls through those windows, onto our secret treasure of oak floors that lay hidden for all the years we lived there.



Sometimes I feel I'm married to sorrow. Always quicker to feel the keen edge of grief or poignancy or loss than the balm of joy, contentment, a sense of good possibilities.

But a comfort to me is that it feels meet and right that we refurbished and polished our little house like a gem for the people who own it now. Like we gave our home the parting gifts it deserved, leaving it in so much better shape than it was when we bought it all those years ago.

I hope that its new inhabitants love our home as much as I did, and that they do not mind so much living across the street from a parking lot. From the bedroom windows you can see the sun rising in the morning and the moon rising at night; and I left the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling in the shape of the constellations of the northern sky.

Friday, December 1, 2017

In search of




"My notebooks. So sadly full, this one with impotence, the other with empty, pointless waiting. The most difficult of waits, the most painful: the wait for oneself. If I were to write something in it, it would be the confession that I too have been waiting for myself for a long time, and I haven't turned up."

 —Josefina Vicens

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wild sisters


Into the dark wood she climbed up streams of amber oak leaves.




When she reached the top of the little hill, she was still thinking her hill-climbing thoughts, drawing in the smells of earth and leaf and a velvety, caressing wind rarely felt in November.

Thus occupied, the woman did not see the oak russet doe standing in the trees until she bounded away, white tail flashing in alarm.

"Oh, beauty," said woman remorsefully, in the softest voice, a wild-calming voice.

As if heeding human words, doe stopped after four bounds and looked at the woman over her shoulder. She wants to stay away from humans, but is pragmatic. It is no use running further if she is not being pursued.

Eyes turned inside see one reality; eyes turned outward see the deer standing before you.

The deer who is is paying attention and not daydreaming.

For a moment, woman and doe regard one another.

Then the woman withdraws slowly, humbly, so as not to cause more disturbance.

When she later returns along the same path, the doe is nowhere to be seen. But her image is now part of the woman's inner dreaming, the woods she walks in her mind.





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