old fashioned weather

This December has been gentle, a little cold. And that has felt like a gift to me, for I've been able to go on wearing cardigans and socks a while longer. I've had moments, riding my bike through the neighbourhood where lawns are still green and sprinkled with pink, with gold, of feeling really quite content. After years of bruising heat, this at last is what an early summer should be like. It is the mellowing of the old year.

I know it's just a respite. I know the climate will go on warming. But I am glad for this little peaceful comfort before the long sweltering battle ahead. 

Now, I don't normally blog these days about my personal life, but I do have one anecdote which I believe is too sweet not to share ... My brother lives far away, and he sent me a gift through the mail which my mother assured me was "just my style." When I opened it on Christmas Day, I was astonished.




A few months ago, I'd bought a Royal Doulton vintage tea cup from my local charity store. It was a remarkable find because usually good quality, delicate, tea cups are impossible to locate here. And my brother had sent me the same cup. He'd found it in a quaint little shop filled with assorted chinaware, and chose it on a sudden whim. Of all the tea cups in the entire world, he bought me one to match that which I already had, not even knowing I had it.



I wish you all the very best for the turning of the year.

in requiem

I can not list all their names, I can only look up into the pale morning sky and know there are extra stars out there somewhere - bright stars, broken lights, all the famous people who have passed on this year, and the quiet everyday people about whom no one knew to write a headline. I was talking about it with a younger person today, about how this year brought so much grief to our culture, and I said maybe it's because the people of my generation and the one before were so bloody awesome, they did so many awesome things, they had courage and beauty and wild voices that they were willing to share with us all.




Or maybe it's because the 70s and 80s were years of magic ... goblin kings and purple rain and rabbit prophets and fabulous star princesses and sad minstrels who had turned their hearts to thorns ... and we grieve now to see its loss so starkly. We are not only mourning people, but a way of being in the world. A poetic, cock-eyed, deep-down, gloriously honest way. We look ahead to walls and fear, betrayal from our leaders, and an agony of disconnection that is widespread amongst our youth. It feels like a winter, and the leafy, sumptuous magic shrivelled away.

But winter is the richest time of all. The magic is not gone, it is only in the dirt and the dark, reseeding itself to grow again with new tenderness and even greater strength than before. If we water it.

So when you have wept your tears, and made your plans incase war comes, and watched all the old movies again, please write those poems you aren't sure are good enough. Dance down the supermarket aisles. Put on a black turtleneck jumper and sigh loudly in public. Be crazy and glorious and honest and so very, very brave. (I know, sometimes just walking to the stores can feel brave. That's enough!) Let's all be minstrels and prophets and determined princesses. Let's keep believing in magic. The younger generations coming forth will see cruelty and deception all around them, a poisoned world, a promise of wars. Let's not be silent for them, like some empty garden waiting to be plundered for oil. Let's sing them all the mad, heart-rending poem-songs, teach them about roots of lavish enchantment, and show them the stars.


art by amy sol


the christmas spirit

I saw him anew, a day too late : an old and gentle man walking the wild secret ways, with a buck at his side to carry him when he needs carrying, when his back begins to hurt or the time seems to be running out - a buck with eyes like whatever lies beyond the moon, and a pelt the texture of shyness.

I saw him lugging love around the world. And his sack is not full of gifts, for as we know the parents provide those. His sack is full of stars. Tiny soft silvery stars which he places in the sleeping eyes and the open hearts of people everywhere. The stars are wishing, hoping, loving, joyousness. They are what make peace.

He is the dream beneath a hundred legends. I may not believe in Santa Claus, but I can easily and certainly believe in him.





The illustration is by Jan Pashley. Click on her name to visit her website and view more of her beautiful, endearing Christmas artwork. I hope your Christmas was everything you needed it to be.


sacred days

It is quiet here now, this Christmas evening. I think of all the people who celebrated with joy, and all the people who struggled. It's a shame we make this day so weighty. I hope where ever you are in the world, and whatever your situation, you experience peace and love, not only at Christmas but all the everydays, which are sacred too. 




I wish I could gift gentleness to the world. Roses and soft rain. Courage and grace. A calm hope for our future and the future of nature. I see so many people bringing such things quietly, where they can, with whatever work or wisdom they have to offer, and I think maybe, maybe, we will go well after all.





For millennia, people have paused just when it looked darkest
to celebrate silence and to have faith in the return of light.
Peace to all.
  
Eric Garland

retrospective

Solstice blessings to you all. The sun went down in gentle red-gold last night, and the sky turned green. I wondered if I was looking not at the sky but a glimpse of faery meadows. That's how thin the veil was - but luckily I didn't hear the bells. I've heard them before, and felt the thrill, like thorns against the heart, of real magic.




This has been a difficult year for the world. It was certainly a challenging year for me, and I didn't get much done, but I took care of myself, and rested a lot, and I think that was just as important as activity. I don't know what next year will bring for us all, the news is so bad day after day - but still the voices of love, peace, and resistance to evil, are speaking up, and that keeps me from endless weeping.

I usually do a weblog retrospective around Solstice or the new year, but this time it's a little different as I moved sites, and I didn't post as much as I normally do, and I also sent out some e-letters for a while. So I offer you now a jumble of here and there, said and unsaid ...

January

Women who drift with deer. This post about gentle women resonated with many. I write stories of fragile women. Their power is generally in their kindness, or their loving nature; often, they don't have what we call power, but find their happiness instead within an old woundedness, holding their memories rather than wanting to transform them. I don't know if these stories speak to other women, but we have so many strong heroines in literature, I want to place my own words on the other side of the balance.
February

The wild ways of stone and soul. It seems most people think of a path in terms of how we move upon it – this way, that way, sometimes off it (if we're willing to take the risk). But I believe a path can be a living thing, a complicated thing, rich with stop and go. I guess what we know of it depends on how we walk it ... Some paths feel so lonely. Some feel like they have turned away from people, gone within their silence, and those are the dangerous ones, because you can not trust where they might carry you. Other paths call for walkers, call and call, and if they are lucky they will be visited by someone who will talk with them, foot and stone, wonder and memory, and who will journey rather than just travel.




March

When you need to live quietly. It's not just about doing things. A walk on the beach is not too much because of the walking. It's because of the tidesong, and the light floating on water, and all the stories that wash in. It's because every other person walking past trails perfume, energy, wonder, sound. It's because of all the other days spent walking on the beach that layer the air of this one.

April

Her feet are stained with dreams. There is no place for the wander-hearted woman; she belongs in placelessness. She finds her rest only in the wistful yearning for somewhere else ... She collects possibilities, as if they are feathers or shells, stones or knotted white threads from old clothes; she brings them out from her pockets every day and wishes she was far-awaying. But not the actual far away.

May

From an unpublished post : I am sitting in my unlit house at the faint edge of day, listening to the birds sing a path of feather-brushed, dirt-smudged dreams for the moon to rise upon. She came early yesterday; I watched her as I sat on the grass waterside, eating dinner. She seemed to have been pecked at by birds - tui and magpies and brusque black swans.

June

Earthlines and sea gifts. I was blessed to have an article published in the wonderful magazine Earthlines : My little piece is about a dragon, and sparrows of course, and the dreaming magic that lies beneath my feet. I feel as if a bit of me, tucked inside my words, went with them across the oceans to the island that I have long loved, and spent a small while there breathing mist, and peat-smoke, and the very same air Maeve hollered into, and Yeats walked through. This is what writing's for - not the being published part, but the journeying, the strange and lovely places your words take you to. And also for the words drawn in response from readers that make you feel as if the world has been unclothed of your own perceptions and you see it naked, beautiful, tender, through the thoughts of another person.




July

From one of my e-letters : Today, I sat quietly in the dark before dawn. I am not a morning person, but this was a lovely moment. The darkness was so gentle, full of magic and promise. A rain storm had eased away, and the quiet seemed bouyant, floating in a satisfied peace. One bird was tenderly singing the sun up out of the sea. It all felt like dew on the heart - and nothing that could be captured in a photograph. I hope we don't veer more and more towards the shorthand communication of imagery, and forsake long, languid, complex ramblings of words. I think if that happens we will lose something deep within ourselves, and risk losing our true connection with others also. I may see you in a photograph more clearly than I see you through words, but I know you better by what you tell me, what your phrases and pauses communicate. I may see your soul.

August

Bright heart and bee-sung hopes. The sky is exuberantly blue today, like a shell cracked open to reveal the hidden heart of the old, solemn sea-king within.

September

White lace witches.  Maybe it is because I grew up on a hill with the wild sea wind. I never developed an affinity for walls and doors. There has always  been so much to love - shadow, moss, owls, Devonshire teas, antique stories, barren rooms, plain white, fleece fairies, tea leaf prophecies, old unearthed words, fierce hair, nose rings, silk and lace petticoats, kittens with ribbon collars, wolves ... Surely there's space enough in a heart for it all.




October

The weeping woman. Sometimes you cry and the tears show you where the roses want to grow.

November

The healing power of small and quiet stories. I believe in narrative therapy. Mythic therapy. After years of watching masculine theories of psychology fail for women, I have come to put my faith instead in the old witchy wise theory of sitting down on the ground and telling the story. Singing the story. Drumming it with fists against the ground. Dancing, walking, digging, wailing the story.

December

From an unpublished post : I grew up with tea leaves and tarot cards. I was encouraged to listen to my intuition. Lately, I have been contemplating the art of meditation and yoga. And this week I let the whole lot of that go. Instead, I walked amongst the trees.I don't want to centre myself or find my core. I want to be in the world, experiencing my self weaving and reweaving through the sunlight, the leaf-shadow, the water stories at the edge of wild quiet. All inner silence gives me is my own thoughts back to me. And I don't want to draw on the wisdom of the universe from within my house, sitting alone, laying out cards. It's not a wrong thing to do, but I personally at this time would rather take a question to the meadow, and share a conversation about what the answer may be. Or simply let the light and the whispering clovers, the singing birds, speak through me.


Happy holy days!


homeland

This week, for the first time in almost forty years, I went camping. And, as is usual with adventures, I learned a lot. For example, I learned that, when the bank loses money you were relying upon, and the camping lodge refuses your booking, and the hills are far steeper than you remember, and the only place to pitch your tent is sloped - well, at such moments, the whole world and all its concerns slip away, and you find yourself standing on inner ground.

I was surprised at the state of mine. I believed the trials I've gone through these past couple of years had broken it into an archipelago of doubts, fragilities, brave mountains, wild shores. But I learned too that I have a little Lookfar of my own. And bridges I never appreciated before.




I think often about the kind of place I want to live, the kind of environment I want surrounding me. I dream of more trees, more quiet, fewer neighbours, a diversity of birds. Truth is, though, there is no more important environment for a woman that that inner ground. It is her real home.

the memory of the earth which sustains and buries bones

I grew up with fortune tellers peering at tea leaves and shuffling tarot cards. I became a fortune teller myself. Luckily, I also grew up with big old trees hemmed with moss, knee-deep in black fecund earth, and with the smiles and whispers of unseen People living amongst them. So when I decided just recently that tea leaves and tarot cards were an interrogation of the universe, rather than a conversation, and that I wanted something different for myself, I knew where I needed to go. To the glade, to the meadow, out amongst the gauze-winged and double-kneed spirits.




Yesterday I wrote about old Christmas traditions and how difficult it was to reconcile my southern culture with the northern one I had been taught by my elders, who still considered England home, although their families had emigrated more than a century before. And then I learned this morning that the universe had not finished its conversation with me on the topic. It sent me questions, gentle, unflinching from the deeper truth. For example, why do I deride one set of Christmas card images (summer) for the sake of what is merely another (winter)? When I find home in my old traditions, is it the traditions themselves which provide it, or the personal memories, the smell of small high rooms, sand on the floorboards, pine needles in sunlight, the feeling of love?

What real connection is lacking, that I cling so to nostalgia?

Well, when I look, I see its the same connection that I find missing from tea leaves ... a lack of conversation with the world.




I don't mean that I should submit to a suntanned Santa Claus. I mean that I should notice how the pohutukawa flowers are gold-tipped this year, like they're supposed to be, after a long time of being only red. I should feel the heat of scoria pathways beneath my remembered feet, and see the tiny, translucent rock spirits that flicker through the sunlit air. I have access to a rich, beautiful lore of Christmas within my world, right outside my door. And it's not the things that are done - the beach holidays, the cricket - but all those myriad intersections of my heart and Love.




Beneath our memories are the tangly, nutritious roots of more real memories, shared with the earth. For as Martin Shaw says (and yes, the world is still talking to me through his words, many of which I read before without hearing them in the same way I do for this conversation) ... we didn't dream up story, we ourselves got dreamt.

Beneath our culture is the indigenous culture ... and beneath that the animal culture ... and beneath that the memory of trees ... and beneath that the culture of the spirits, the first People of the world ... and beneath that is whatever word you have for the one who birthed us all. Slowly, I am moving my own friendship through the layers (and back again, and down again ...)

So I understand at last that holding on to a specific culture of Christmas is like reading tarot cards - you get something true from it, but are you really in mutual engagement with the deeper leaf-and-dirt truth of the world?


art by flora mclachlan



I know some of you are card readers, and I wish no offence - I love the cards, I am only talking here of my own personal experience. You may feel ... read ... divine ... experience ... differently, and that's beautiful.



old bone memory

On the translucent evenings this time of year, I look south and dream of Christmases past. I've never lived south, but I'm not talking about geographical direction - rather, about something in the sky, the air between here and somewhere. Southward, nostalgia lies. At least for me.

Maybe it's a small white creature tucked within a pine-scented shadow's curve, a thing of delicately sharp teeth and soft fur, a thing for which we have no name because we believe all emotional experiences derive from our own minds, instead of from the worlds around us - the interior galaxies of trees, the secret dragons, the slip-sliding yunggamurras of rivers, the glimpsed tails we think are windswept clouds.




If I was to describe my nostalgia for advent, I would speak of the ways in which, as a child, I always sought winter glimmer in our summer hours. So - pale horizons, the drift of light against dark tree trunks, the scent of fresh pine, tinsel sparkling like icicles, the lingering chill of early mornings. Every December, I try to have summer meet with the old traditions of my English heritage, and somewhere in the middle I make my own private magic for the season. There are no surfing Santas for me. I grew up in the wintry country of my elders' own nostalgia, itself an inbetween place that vanished from existence when they passed on.

Those old traditions are seldom seen in my culture now, except in storefront windows and on greeting cards. I miss the experience of living within a mutual bone memory. As I write this post, I am taking small interludes as usual to allow words a gathering space before I lay them down here. In the interludes I am listening to this video of the great storyteller Martin Shaw. And as so often happens, so very often, the world is conversing with me about the very subject of this post.




For me, the old northern stories of White Christmas resonate with my deep self - they contain bone memories of mythic truth. Unfortunately, this happens in the middle of summer here. And so I celebrate the Solstice instead now, to honour the mythic truth of summer's lore. But it also means that I miss out on the communal celebration of winter's lore, the embedding of it in annual tradition. And yet I would miss it anyway. Here at the bright end of the world, there are even calls for new Christmas songs, summery songs. I wouldn't mind at all - I would embrace it joyfully - except there is no depth to what is replacing the winter traditions. No hanging of oak leaves. No baskets of flowers left on neighbour's doors. No cornucopias. No summer stories told. It is all barbecues, backyard cricket, and a sunbathing Santa Claus. It has no roots, no story. It is skin memory - simply the stuff we do. And that worries me. As Martin Shaw says, we need stories of depth and substance to help sustain our communities through these difficult times. They are the songlines to our souls.


on the other side of stories

I said before that stories are our greatest medicine, by which I meant written stories, sung stories, stories painted or drawn or stitched with thread through hessian. But I should have said deeper. Stories try to fill the space between us and others - people, nature. The heart of the medicine is the other itself.

We are most healed when we hear the person we have not heard, when we help the flower to grow, when we lay our hands inside the dirt and smell the pine needles.