Tunes for a Monday Morning

Moving the Sheep by James Ravilious

Above: "Silverline" by the British folk duo Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker. The song, says Clarke, was inspired by William Wordsworth's poem "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," and by the Romantic poets in general. It appeared on the duo's fourth album, Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour (2014).

Below: "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose," performed by Clarke & Walker, from the poem of that name by Robert Burns. The song can be found on their second album, Fire & Fortune (2013).

Above: "The Road Not Taken" by Salt House (Lauren MacColl, Jenny Sturgeon, and Ewan MacPherson), a trio of musicians based in Scotland. The song is based, of course, on the poem of the same name by Robert Frost. It appears on their new album, Undersong (2018).

Below: "Love Gathers All" by Fara (Jennifer Austin, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price), from the Orkney Islends of Scotland. The song was adapted from the poetry of Orcadian writer Edwin Muir, and appears on the group's new Times from Times Fall (2018).

Above: "The Art of Forgetting" a poetic new piece by Kyle Carey, a singer/songwriter exploring the edgelands between Gaelic and American folk music. It's from her new album of the same name, which has just been released.

Below: Robbie Robertson's "Across the Great Divide" performed by Kyle Carey with Gillebride MacMillan, a Scottish singer from the Hebrides. The backing musicians are Mhairi Hall, Ewen MacPherson, Elias Alexander, and Fiona MacKaskill.

And to end, as we started, with Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker:

"A Pauper and a Poet," written by Clarke & Walker, from their album Fire & Fortune.

Archie Parkhouse and his dog Sally by James Ravilious

The photographs above are by James Ravillious (1939-1999), known for his wonderful pictures of 20th century farming life here in Devon.


Following the bear

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Lucy Campbell

Many thanks to Dee Dee Chainey (author of A Treasury of British Folklore) for reminding me of this post from the archives. As winter approaches, it's good to be thinking of bears, and all they can teach us....

While thinking about the value of taking periodic retreats from the online world, I was reminded of something Terry Tempest Williams once said about the symbology of bears...so I searched through her interviews (published in A Voice in the Wilderness) until I found the right passage. For Williams, the bear embodies "opposing views, that we can be both fierce and compassionate at once. The bear is above ground in spring and summer and below ground, hibernating, in fall and winter -- and she emerges with young by her side. I think that's a wonderful model for us, particularly as women. And it's one I've tried to adopt." 

She goes on to explain that she divides her years into halves. From April Fool's Day to The Day of the Dead (November 1st), she lives a public life as a writer and activist, doing any traveling or public speaking or teaching during these months. From The Day of the Dead until April Fool's Day, however, she stays at home -- to spend time with her family; to write; to live within the rhythms of her creativity. The bear, she suggests, "offers us a model of how one lives with that paradox, of public and private life, of a creative life as well as a life of obligation."

Ice Bear by Jackie Morris

Williams also addresses this theme in her essay "Undressing the Bear," pointing out that the she-bear has two sides her nature: both fierce and maternal, wild and nurturing. In mythic terms, this oppositional duality held in instinctive balance is the point.

"If we choose to follow the bear," she writes, "we will be saved from a distracted and domesticated life. The bear becomes our mentor. We must journey out, so that we might journey in. The bear mother enters the earth before snowfall and dreams herself through winter, emerging with young by her side. She not only survives the barren months, she gives birth. She is the caretaker of the unseen world. As a writer and a woman with obligations to both family and community, I have tried to adopt this ritual of balancing public and private life. We are at home in the deserts and mountains, as well as in our dens. Above ground in the abundance of spring and summer, I am available. Below ground in the deepening of autumn and winter, I am not. I need hibernation in order to create."

Hibernation by Susan Seddon BouletIn Women Who Run With the Wolves, psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés notes the age-old connection of women and bears in the mythic traditions of many different lands. "To the ancients," she writes, "bears symbolized resurrection. The creature goes to sleep for a long time, its heartbeat decreases to almost nothing. The male often impregnates the female right before hibernation, but miraculously, egg and sperm do not unite right away. They float separately in her uterine broth until much later. Near the end of hibernation, the egg and sperm unite and cell division begins, so that the cubs will be born in the spring when the mother is awakening, just in time to care for and teach her new offspring. Not only by reason of awakening from hibernation as though from death, but much more so because the she-bear awakens with new young, this creature is a profound metaphor for our lives, for return and increase coming from something that seemed deadened.

Bear Woman by Susan Seddon Boulet"The bear is associated with many huntress Goddesses: Artemis and Diana in Greece and Rome, and Muerte and Hecoteptl, mud women deities in the Latina cultures. These Goddesses bestowed upon women the power of tracking, knowing, 'digging out' the psychic aspects of all things. To the Japanese the bear is the symbol of loyalty, wisdom, and strength. In northern Japan where the Ainu tribe lives, the bear is one who can talk to God directly and bring messages back for humans. The cresent moon bear is considered a sacred being, one who was given the white mark on his throat by the Buddhist Goddess Kwan-Yin, whose emblem is the crescent moon. Kwan-Yin is the Goddess of Deep Compassion and the bear is her emissary.

"In the psyche, the bear can be understood as the ability to regulate one's life, especially one's feeling life. Bearish power is the ability to move in cycles, be fully alert, or quiet down into a hibernative sleep that renews one's energy for the next cycle. The bear image teaches that it is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one's emotional life, and most especially that one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one's territory, make one's boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering all the same."

Bear scuptures by Gene Tobey

Though Williams and Estés are focused on women and women's issues in the passages above, the oppositional nature of bear symbology is useful to all artists, men and women alike, who struggle to balance their public and private selves, and the often-conflicting demands of family life, community engagement, and creative work. To be available to others, while protecting time to be available only to ourselves and our muse...is this not the dilemma that all creative artists (if we're not complete monsters of self-importance or self-effacement) face again and again?

And even when we are alone in the studio, the symbol of the mythic bear and cyclical hibernation is a useful one. As a culture, we tend to prize action, accomplishment, and public expression over stillness, retreat, and quiet reflection -- but creativity needs all parts of the cycle: the taking in, the pause, the putting back out. Art is born in the movement between them, the mythic rhythm at the heartbeat of our lives.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Frederick Richardson

The winter months have always been a challenge for me. I love sunshine, dry weather and warmth (the hotter the better), and for many years I avoided the cold by wintering in the Arizona desert -- where bears roamed above us on the mountain peaks, but did not venture down to the heat of the valley.

By living full-time on Dartmoor now,  however, I am learning to appreciate winter's stark gifts: it slows me down, turns my thoughts inward, keeps me closer to hearth and home, strengthening the introverted side of my nature, without which I couldn't write or paint. I am learning at last to follow the bear; to trust in the process of hibernation and gestation. I am learning patience. Slowness. Stillness.

All things have their season. And spring always comes.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Līga Kļaviņa

Sleeping bear by Marc Simont

This post was first published in the winter of 2014, re-posted with additional art. The imagery above is by Lucy Campbell (Scotland), Jackie Morris (Wales), Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997; UK, Brazil & US),  Gene Tobey (1945-2006, US),  Frederick Richardson (1862-1937, US), Līga Kļaviņa (Latvia), and Marc Simont (1915-2013; France & US). Titles can be found in the picture captions.

The passages quoted above are from A Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams by Michael Austin (Utah State University Press, 2006); "Undressing the Bear," published in An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field by Terry Tempest Williams (Vintage, 1994); and Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Ballentine, 1992). All rights reserved by the artists and authors.


Myth & Moor update

River photograph by Vikky Minette

My apologies for the lack of posts this week; I've been down with health issues once again. I am making a good (if slow) recovery, and plan to be back in the studio by Monday. Thank you for your patience.

The photograph above is by my friend and down-the-street neighbour Vikki Minnet. Her beautiful studies of the rivers of Devon were published in River Suite, with the poetry of Roselle Angwin (Mudlark Press, 2013).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Traveller and Dog by Matt Bigwood

I'll be out of the office on Monday, but rather than leave you without music to start the week, I've set this post up in advance....

In the video above, the lovely Sam Lee performs a trio of gypsy songs accompanied by Flora Curzon (fiddle), Josh Green (percussion), and Jon Whitten (ukulele). The songs are "Over Yonders Hill" (collected here in the West Country), "Lovely Molly," and "Goodbye My Darling." 

Sam is a wildly innovative folk singer and song collector who learned his vocal style from the UK's Travelling community. He talks about the genesis of the songs above -- but if you'd like to learn more about them, and about his apprenticeship with Scottish Traveller balladeer Stanley Robertson, watch "Ballad Lands," a short flm on the subject shot in Aberdeen.

In the video below, filmed by Lucy Kaye, he brings his recording of the Napoleonic ballad "Bonny Bunch of Roses" back to woman he learned it from, the great Traveller singer Freda Black. For more information on the Tradition Bearers who have carried these songs, stories, and folkways to the present day, I recommend the Song Collectors Collective website, which is a wonderful resource.

The photograph above is "Traveller and Dog" by Matt Bigwood, the portrait of a young Traveller on his way home from the Stow on the Wold Horse Fair. The photograph below is "Writer and Dog" by my husband, taken this summer here on Dartmoor. I hope to be back in the office/studio tomorrow, health permitting.

''Writer and Dog'' by Howard Gayton

All rights to the music and photographs above reserved by the musicians and photographers.