Wild prayer

Rainbow 1

After weeks of rain storms, yesterday there was blue sky and a rainbow over our village. In a long, dark season of water-soaked fields and foot trails ankle-deep in mud, it felt a blessing.

Today, it is clear over Meldon Hill,  though a bank of dark clouds hovers over the moor. Sun or rain, I am ready for both. Rainbow-blessed and vision restored, I'm reminded to love the earth's full palette: the delicacy of winter blue, the wet vibrancy of green and gold, but also the spectrum of color that gives us grey days, comfortless as they sometimes seem. Grey is the color of mist, mystery, mythic entrances to the Otherworld. Grey is the hidden and the unseen -- which we sometimes need to be ourselves.

Meldon Hill

In her essay collection Wild Comfort, Kathleen Dean Moore takes sorrow and the hardships of life into nature, seeking clarity, solace, and a form of prayer unattached to the religion she was raised in and no longer practices. Alone in her kayak on a small mountain lake, she is enclosed in the grey world of falling snow, cut off from sight of the land by the storm. In the thick of the snow squall, she writes:

"a frog began to sing. It must have been a tree frog, Hyla regilla. Of course I couldn't see it; I couldn't see anything but snow beyond my vanished bow. But I knew that song, and I could imagine the tiny frog up to its eyes in water, snowflaked falling on its head fiery green enough to melt the snow.

 "As long as the frog sings, I will not be lost in the squall. The song tells me where the cattails are, and the cattails mark the shore. I am sure of this much, that Earth lights these small signal fires -- not for us, but among us -- and we can find them if we look. If we are not afraid, if we keep our balance, if we let our anxious selves dissolve into the beauties and mysteries of the night, we will find a way to peace and assurance. Signal fires burn all over the land."

Rainbow 2

Here is the prayer Moore finds in the middle of the storm, and that she offers to us:

"May the light that reflects on this water be a wild prayer. May water lift us with its unexpected strength. May we find comfort in the 'repeated strains of nature,' the softly sheeting snow, the changing seasons, the return of blackbirds to the marsh. May we find strength in light that pours under the snow and laughter that breaks through the tears. May we go out into the light-filled snow, among meadows in bloom, with a gratitude for life that is deep and alive. May Earth's fires burn in our hearts, and may we know ourselves to be part of this flame -- one thing, never alone, never weary of life."

May it be so. Mitakuye Oyasin.

Rainbow 3

Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore

The two passages quoted above are from Kathleen Dean Moore's essay "Never Alone or Weary" in Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature (Trumpeter Books, 2010); the poem in the picture captions is from The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov (New Directions, 2013); all rights reserved by the authors. I wrote about rainbows in my own personal symbology here, back in 2010.


A quiet morning in the studio

Rainbow 1


Bird Girl by Terri WindlingSong of the Sky Loom

an ancient Tewa prayer/poem

Oh Mother Earth, oh Father Sky,
Your children are we all.
With tired backs we bring you song,
we bring you the gifts you love.

May the warp be the white light of the morning.
May the weft be the red light of evening.
May the fringes be the falling rain.
May the border be the standing rainbow.
Weave for us this bright garment
that we may walk where birds sing
and animals raise their young,
where water flows
and grass is green.

Oh Mother the Earth, oh Father the Sky,
your children are we all.


The Deer's Cry
an extract from an ancient Celtic prayer/poem

Robin, photographed by Derek Stackey for Devon BirdsI arise today
through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.


A birdchild from my sketchbook
Rainbow over Chagford Commons

Studio 4The Tewa prayer comes from Songs of the Tewa, edited by Herbert J. Spinden; the Celtic prayer and the passage in the picture captions comes from Anam Cara by John O'Donohue. The later prayer is translated by Kuno Meyer. The robin was photographed by Derek Stacey for Devon Birds. The other photographs are of an early morning rainbow arched over our house, viewed from my studio on the hill behind; and Tilly in her usual spot on the studio sofa as the day begins. The "Bird Girl" and "Bird Boy" drawings are from my sketchbooks.


Mysteries and miracles

Sea Fairies by Florence Harrison

Over the last couple of weeks here we've been talking about slowing down, paying attention, being fully present wherever we live, within the lives that we live and the work that we do. Yet sometimes ... too often ... life knocks us off-center and we struggle to regain our sense of hózhó (as the Navajo call it): of balance and "walking in beauty." How do we re-center ourselves in the art-making process (or, indeed, in the life-making process) when this happens?

Rainbow Fairy by Willy PogányWendell Berry proffers this insight in his essay collection Standing by Words:

"What can turn us...back into the sphere of our being, the great dance that joins us to our home, to each other and to other creatures, to the dead and unborn? I think it is love. I am perforce aware how baldly and embarrassingly that word now lies on the page -- for we have learned at once to overuse it, abuse it,  and hold it in suspicion. But I do not mean any kind of abstract love (adolescent, romantic, or 'religious'), which is probably a contradiction in terms, but particular love for particular things, places, creatures, and people, requiring stands, acts, showing its successes and failures in practical or tangible effects. And it implies a responsibility just as particular, not grim or merely dutiful, but rising out of generosity. I think that this sort of love defines the effective range of human intelligence, the range within its works can be dependably beneficent. Only the action that is moved by love for the good at hand has the hope of being responsible and generous. Desire for the future produces words that cannot be stood by. But love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows."

Rainbow over the rooftops

For Berry, it all comes back to place:

"I stand for what I stand on: the local landscape, the local community: human, animal, and vegetable alike. ''I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality," he writes, "that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle."

And that, for me, is precisely where art, inspiration, balance and beauty can be found: within mystery, by miracle: the everyday miracles of the place we call home. The leaves turning gold. A partner's sweet smile. The good scent of coffee on a cold autumn morning. A rainbow outside the studio window, there for one minute and gone in the next.

Studio copy

"The grace that is the health of teachers can only be held in common," says Berry (in his poem "Healing"):

    The love and the work of friends and lovers belongs to the task, and are its health.
    Rest and rejoicing belong to the task, and are its grace.
    Let tomorrow come tomorrow. Not by your will is the house carried through the night.

Illustration by Florence Susan HarrisonThe Wendell Berry quotes are from Standing By Words, Life As Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition, and What Are People For; all rights reserved by the author. The illustrations are by Florence Susan Harrison (top and bottom), and Willy Pogány.


Re-shaping reality

Nattadon Rainbows

From an article on fantasy literature for children by Lloyd Alexander (The Horn Book magazine, 1968):

"All art, by definition of the word, is fantasy in the largest sense. The most uncompromisingly (shall I say sordidly?) naturalistic novel is still a manipulation of reality. Fantasy, too, is a manipulation, a re-shaping of reality. There is no essential conflict or contradiction between literary realism and literary fantasy, no more than between science and humanism. Technical details aside, most of the things you can say about fantasy also apply to realism. I suppose you might define realism as fantasy pretending to be true; and fantasy as reality pretending to be a dream.

"Of course, for practical reasons -- and librarians and teachers understand these better than anyone -- we are obliged to catagorize and separate. Like it or not, we become specialists. The best we can do is make sure we are not nearsighted specialists. We can always keep in the back of our minds the idea that whatever our specialty, it is still an integral part of the whole. Literature for children is not a quiet backwater, but a current of the mainstream."

Nattadon Rainbows 2

From Ursula K. Le Guin's acceptance speech for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (received for the third of her "Earthsea" books, The Farthest Shore, 1973):

"We who hobnob with hobbits and tell tales about little green men are used to being dismissed as mere entertainers, or sternly disapproved of as escapists. But I think perhaps the catagories are changing, like the times. Sophisticated readers are accepting the fact that an improbable and unmanageable world is going to produce an improbable and hypothetical art. At this point, realism is perhaps the least adequate means of understanding or portraying the incredible realities of our existence. A scientist who creates a monster in the laboratory; a librarian in the library of Babel; a wizard unable to cast a spell; a space ship having trouble getting to Alpha Centauri: all these may be precise and profound metaphors of the human condition. Fantasists, whether they use ancient archetypes of myth and legend or the younger ones of science and technology, may be talking as seriously as any sociologist -- and a good deal more directly -- about human life as it is lived, and as it might be lived. For after all, as great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope."

Nattadon Rainbows 3

From Alison Lurie's collection of essays on children's literature, Don't Tell the Grown-ups (1990):

''The great subversive works of children's literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of shopping malls and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten.''

Nattadon Rainbows 4

From Andre Norton's The Book of Andre Norton (1975):

"There is no more imagination-stretching form of writing, nor reading, than the world of fantasy. The heroes, heroines, colors, action, linger in one's mind long after the book is laid aside. And how wonderful it would be if world gates did exist and one could walk into Middle Earth, Kavin's World, the Land of Unreason, Atlantis, and all the other never-nevers! We have the windows to such worlds and must be content with those."

Tilly at the window


What Tilly and I saw on our morning walk...

A rainbow bridge into Faerie

...in-between bursts of summer showers: a rainbow stretching from theopen moor to the rolling green fields of Chagford.

In myth, rainbows often lead from the human world to the spirit world or the realm of the gods: Eddic Bifröst in Norse myth, for example, is a rainbow bridge built by the gods themselves, leading to their home in Asgard. In Arabian myth, the rainbow is often portrayed as the bow of a god or djinn responsible for sending rain and storms, while in Slavonic myth it's the tri-colored belt of the Mother Goddess or the Virgin  Mary. The Rainbow Serpent is a well-known sacred figure from Australian aboriginal lore -- but it can also be found in Brazilian myth, and in tales from equitorial Africa.

Rainbow over the fields

I've written about rainbows in my personal symbology before, and they never fail to fill me with awe. Tilly and I stopped to watch this one until fresh rain showers drove us home again, shrieking (me, not Tilly) as we ran through the woods, getting very wet indeed.

Wet dog

Now Tilly lounges by the studio window, damp but content, while the rain drums patterns on the cabin's tin roof. Outside, the parched hills drink it down; and inside, all is snug and dry. With Celtic fiddles on the stereo and a fresh mug of coffee to hand, the work week begins ....

The work week begins


I woke up to this....

Rainbow over the rooftop

When I was 15, I sat in despair one day in a creaky old bus that was winding its way through central Mexico (that's another story),  trying to decide if I truly believed in God. Not necessarily God with a big white beard looking down from a Biblical heaven, but some kind of sacred spirit above, beneath, and within all things. I'd aways had a deep, instinctive faith (even as a small child) in a sacred dimension to life,  a Mystery I didn't need to fully define in order to know it, feel it, experience it. But recent grueling events had shaken my faith and closed that connection.

Now, I realize that sitting and railing at God is practically a cliche of teenage angst; that doesn't make the experience any less urgent at age 15, and I was in a dark place. "Okay," I said, throwing the gauntlet down to whatever out there might be listening, "if there is something more than this, then prove it. Just prove it. Or I quit."  The bus turned a corner on the narrow, dusty road, and a gasp went up from the people around me. Above us, a rainbow arched through a bright blue, cloudless, rainless desert sky.

Rainbows have been special to me ever since. I know the scientific explanation, of course, water and air and angles of sunlight and all that. But to me, they are always a message. They say: "The universe is a Mystery and you're part of it." And sometimes that's all I need to hear; that's all the answer I need, no matter what the prayer.