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September 2012

August 2012

Holding on to what's good

Oak tree, Nattadon Hill

Oak tree by John Constable

Rowan and oak entwined

"One of the things we continue to learn from Native Peoples is that stories are our medicine bundles. I feel that way about our poems, our essays, our fictions. That it is the artist who carries the burden of the storyteller. Terrence Des Pres speaks of  'a prose witness' that relies on the imagination to arrive at the heart of the matter. I believe this is our task as writers to respond to the world as we see it, feel it, and dare to ask questions that will not allow us to sleep. Imagination. Attention to details. Making the connections. 'Art -- right word to station the mind and hold the heart ready.' "   - Terry Tempest Williams

“Hold on to what is good even it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here. Hold on to my hand, even when I have gone away from you.”  -  Nancy Wood

Tilly among the oak roots

I'll be off-line all of next week, and then back in the office (and back to this blog) on Monday, September 3rd. Have a good week, everyone.

Art above: Oak tree drawing by John Constable (1776-1837)

Holding the World in Balance

Mule Deer Child copyright by Terri Windling

From an interview with Chickesaw writer Linda Hogan:

"There is the story that so many tell of the time when humans and animals could change into each other. There were times when animals and people spoke the same language, or when the animals helped the humans. For instance, our mythology says it was the spider who brought us fire.

"I’ve thought about these human-animal relationships for years – is this true? Well, humans and animals existed together for many thousands of years without creating the loss of species. There was enormous respect given to animals. I have to trust the knowledge of indigenous people because it held a world in balance.

"I have a special interest in ceremonies. I look at a ceremony called The Deer Dance. In the ceremony, I watch the entire world unfold through the life of the deer and a man dressed as a deer. The man dances all night. It is as if he were transformed into a deer. This is a renewal ceremony for the people. The deer that lives in the mountains far from the people provides them with life.

Yaqui and Mayo Deer Dancers

A deer dancer in Bhutan

A women's deer dance in Bali

Tibetan Cham Deer

"The purpose of most ceremonies – such as healing ceremonies – is to return one person or group of people to themselves, to place the human in proper relationship with the rest of the world. I thought that we were out of touch with ourselves 20 years ago. Now, with computers and email and cell phones, we are even more out of touch. How many of us even stay in touch with our own bodies? If we aren’t inhabiting our own bodies, how can we understand animal bodies of the world?"

(I recommend reading the full interview here.)

Deer Girl

Flam Chen

Images above: "The Mule Deer Child," Yaqui and Mayo deer dancers (photographed during public dance displays, not sacred ceremonies), a deer dancer in Bhutan, a women's deer dance in Bali, a Tibetan Cham Deer; a deer dance by performer and installation artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley; and performers from the Tucson "circus and fire theatre" troupe Flam Chen. Further reading: "Deer Woman and the Living Myth of the Dreamtime" by Carolyn Dunn, "Where the White Stag Runs" by Ari Berk, and "Balance of the World, Parts I and II" by Howard Gayton.


Perched by Kelly Louse Judd

From the Introduction to The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People, a YA anthology I edited with Ellen Datlow:

"Contemporary writers use animal-transformation themes to explore issues of gender, sexuality, race, culture, and the process of transformation...just as storytellers have done, all over the world, for many centuries past. One distinct change marks modern retellings, however, reflecting our changed relationship to animals and nature. In a society in which most of us will never encounter true danger in the woods, the big white bear who comes knocking at the door [in fairy tales] is not such a frightening prospective husband now; instead, he's exotic, almost appealing. 

Two prints by Kiki Smith

"Whereas once wilderness was threatening to civilization, now it's been tamed and cultivated; the dangers of the animal world have a nostalgic quality, removed as they are from our daily existence. This removal gives "the wild" a different kind of power; it's something we long for rather than fear. The shape-shifter, the were-creature, the stag-headed god from the heart of the woods--they come from a place we'd almost forgotten: the untracked forests of the past; the primeval forests of the mythic imagination; the forests of our childhood fantasies: untouched, unspoiled, limitless.

Book and Tiger by Julia Morstad

"Likewise, tales of Animal Brides and Bridegrooms are steeped in an ancient magic and yet powerfully relevant to our lives today. They remind us of the wild within us...and also within our lovers and spouses, the part of them we can never quite know. They represent the Others who live beside us--cat and mouse and coyote and owl--and the Others who live only in the dreams and nightmares of our imaginations. For thousands of years, their tales have emerged from the place where we draw the boundary lines between animals and human beings, the natural world and civilization, women and men, magic and illustion, fiction and the lives we live."

Bitch by Fay Ku

Images above: "Perched" by Kelly Louise Judd (Kansas City), two prints by Kiki Smith (New York), "Book and Tiger" by Julie Morstad (Vancouver), and "Bitch" by Kay Fu (Brooklyn). Please follow the links to see more of their work. Further reading: "Into the Woods: On British Forests, Myth and Now" by Ruth Padel.

Crossing over

Mermaid in Flight by Fay Ku

A passage from Brenda Peterson's Build Me an Ark: A Life with Animals, in which she is swimming with a dolphin pod on the Florida coast:

"'Crossover' is a word scientists use to describe dolphins' soaring over seas, their traveling so free and fast, so high-spirited and almost effervescent that their sleek bodies barely skim the waves. The suggestion of splashes from tail and pectoral leaves a luminous wake across the water. For these crossover miles, the dolphins, like their human terrestrial mammal kin, belong more to the element of air than the sea....

"Held in [the dolphins'] fluid embrace, I pulled my arms close against my sides and our communal speed increased... Racing around the lagoon, I opened my eyes again to see nothing but an emerald underwater blur. And then I remembered what I had either forgotten long ago or never quite fully realized. This feeling of being carried along by other animals was familiar.

Art copyright by Juliana Swaney

"Animals had carried me all my life. I was a crossover--carried along in the generous and instructive slipstream of other species. And I had always navigated my life with them in mind, going between the human and animal worlds--a crossover myself. By including animals in my life I was always engaging with the Other, imagining the animal mind and life. For almost half a century, my bond with animals had shaped my character and revealed the world to me. At every turning point in my life an animal had mirrored or influenced my fate. Mine was not simply a life with other animals, but a life because of animals.

Fox Confessor by Julie Morstad

"It had been this way since my beginning, born on a forest lookout station in the High Sierras, surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness and many more animals than humans. Since infancy, the first faces I imprinted, the first faces I ever really loved, were animal."

Hank by Carson Ellis
If you haven't yet read Brenda's luminous work (which includes fiction, essays, memoirs, and anthologies), please do seek it out. The link above goes to her website, and her blog (on books, nature, seal watching and more) is here.

Images above: "Mermaid in Flight" by Fay Ku (Brooklyn), "Sky Pack" by Julianna Swaney (Portland), "Fox Confessor" by Julie Morstad (Vancouver), and "Hank" by Carson Ellis (Portland). Please visit their websites to see more of their art.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Miranda (from The Tempest) by John W. Waterhouse

Following on from Friday's post, today's tunes are all inspired by the sea.


Caorolyn Allan and Jenny Keldie sing the old Scottish ballad "The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry," and explain it's meaning to Phil Cunningham. The beautiful video comes from Scotland's Music, with Phil Cunningham, produced for the BBC.


"Rockpool," a song from the lovely Martha Tilston in Cornwall, off her Lucy and the Wolves cd.

Tilly the seal-dog

And last:

"The Old Ways," from the great Canadian singer/songwriter and music scholar Loreena McKennitt, off her Nights in the Alahambra dvd. (A longer post on McKennitt is here.)

Small Craft Warning by Jeanie TomanekImages above: "The Tempest: Miranda" by John W. Waterhouse (1849-1917), Tilly on the Cornish coast, and "Small craft Warning" by Jeanie Tomanek.