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May 2013

Into the Woods, 7: The Dark Forest

Fur Feather Tooth and Nail by Arthur Rackham

"In the mid-path of my life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood," writes Dante in The Divine Comedy, beginning a quest that will lead to transformation and redemption. A journey through the dark of the woods is a motif common to fairy tales: young heroes set off through the perilous forest in order to reach their destiny, or they find themselves abandoned there, cast off and left for dead. The path is hard to find and treacherous, prowled by wolves, ghosts, and wizards...but helpers, too, appear along the way: good fairies, wise elders, and animal guides, usually cloaked in unlikely disguises. The hero's task is to tell friend from foe, and to keep walking steadily onward.

The Dark Forest is not the merry greenwood of Robin Hood legends, or a Disney glade where dwarves whistle as they work, or a National Park with walkways and signposts and designated camping sites; it's the forest primeval, true wilderness, symbolic of the deep, dark levels of the psyche; it's the woods where giants will eat you and pick your bones clean, where muttering trees offer no safe shelter, where the faeries and troll folk are not benign. It's the woods you may never come back from.

The Faery Ring by Alan Lee

"The woods enclose," writes Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber. "You step between the fir trees and then you are no longer in the open air; the wood swallows you up. There is no way through the wood anymore; this wood has reverted to its original privacy. Once you are inside it, you must stay there until it lets you out again for there is no clue to guide you through in perfect safety; grass grew over the tracks years ago and now the rabbits and foxes make their own runs in the subtle labyrinth and nobody comes.... "

"I stood in the wood," Patricia McKillip tells us in Winter Rose. "Now it was a grim and shadowy tangle of thick dark trees, dead vines, leafless branches that extended twig like fingers to point to the heartbeat of hooves. The buttermilk mare, eerily, eerily pale in that silent wood, galloped through the trees; Goblin Market by Arthur Rackhamtree boles turned toward it like faces. A woman in her wedding gown rode with a man in black; he held the reins with one hand and his smiling bride with the other. She wore lace from throat to heel; the roses in her chestnut hair glowed too bright a scarlet, mocking her bridal white…When they stopped, her expression began to change from a pleased, astonished smile, to confusion and growing terror. What twilight wood is this? she asked. What dead, forgotten place?"

The goblins of the glen, in Christina Rossetti 's great poem "Goblin Market," are thoroughly dangerous creatures. When young Laura buys but will not eat their fruit...

"Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbow’d and jostled her,
Claw’d with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soil’d her stocking,
Twitch’d her hair out by the roots,
Stamp’d upon her tender feet,
Against her mouth to make her eat."

Goblin Market by Arthur Rackham

Chase of the White Mouse by John Anster Fitzgerald

Goblins by Brian Froud

To know the woods and to love the woods is to embrace it all, the light and the dark -- the sun dappled glens and the rank, damp hollows; beech trees and bluebells and also the deadly fungi and poison oak. The dark of the woods represents the moon side of life: traumas and trials, failures and secrets, illness and other calamities. The things that change us, temper us, shape us; that if we're not careful defeat or destroy us...but if we pass through that dark place bravely, stubbornly, wisely, turn us all into heroes. 

"The sense of secrets, silence, surprises, good and bad, is fundamental to forests and informs their literatures," notes Sara Maitland in Gossip from the Forest. "In fairy stories this is sometimes simple and direct: Hansel and Gretel get lost in the woods, and then suddenly they come upon the gingerbread house. Snow White runs in terror through the forest and suddenly stumbles upon the dwarves' cottage; characters spending scary nights in or under trees suddenly see a twinkling light -- and they make their laborious way towards it without having any idea what they will find when they arrive.....

"The forest is about concealment and appearances are not to be trusted. Things are not necessarily what they seem and can be dangerously deceptive. Snow White's murderous stepmother is truly the 'fairest of them all,' The wolf can disguise himself as a sweet old granny. The forest hides things; it does not open them out but closes them off. Trees hide the sunshine; and life goes on under the trees, in thickets and tanglewood. Forests are full of secrets and silences. It is not strange that the fairy stories that come out of the forest are stories about hidden identities, both good and bad."

The Gingerbread House by Trina Schart Hyman

The Queen's Pearl Necklace by John Bauer

Appearance deceive in the dark of the woods. You must beware of the helpful wolf by the path, of the beautiful woman who asks for a kiss, of the cozy little house with its door standing open, a meal on the table, and its owner nowhere in sight. No matter how tired you are, warns Lisel Mueller (in her poem "Voice from the Forest"), do not enter that house, do not eat the bread, do not drink the wine: "It is only when you finish eating and, drowsy and grateful, pull off your shoes, that the ax falls or the giant returns or the monster springs or the witch locks the door from the outside and throws away the key."

But if you must enter, Neil Gaiman advises (in his poem "Instructions"), be courteous. And wary. "A red metal imp hangs from the green–painted front door, as a knocker, do not touch it; it will bite your fingers. Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat nothing."

Those last words are important. Folk tales from all over the world warn that eating the food of a witch, a demon, a djinn, a troll, an ogre, or the faeries can be a dangerous proposition. You might owe your youngest child in return, or be bound to your host for the rest of your life. Likewise, don't kiss the beautiful woman who offers you a meal and a bed in her sumptuous chateau hidden deep in the woods. By morning light she'll be a monster, and her house but a pile of rocks and bones.

The Lamb and the Serpent by Arthur Rackham

And yet, despite all the fairy tale warnings, sometimes we're compelled to run to the dark of the woods, away from all that is safe and familiar -- driven by desperation, perhaps, or the lure of danger, or the need for change. Young heroes stray from the safe, well-trodden path through foolishness or despair...but perhaps also by canny premeditation, knowing that venturing into the great unknown is how lives are tranformed. When Gretel walks into the woods, writes Andrea Hollander Budy (in her poem "Gretel," from The House Without a Dreamer) "she means to lose everything she is. She empties her dark pockets, dropping enough crumbs to feed all the men who have touched her or wished." In Ellen Steiber's "Silver and Gold," Red Riding Hood is asked to explain how she failed to distinguish her grandmother from a wolf. "It's complicated," she answers. "Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the ones who love you and the ones who will eat you alive." But what she doesn't say is that if the wolf comes again, she will surely follow. Why? Carol Ann Duffy answers in her poem "Little Red-Cap" (from The World's Wife): "Here's why. Poetry. The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods, away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place lit by the light of owls." To the place of poetry and adventure. The place where the hard and perilous work of transformation begins.

Sara Maitland compares the transformational magic in fairy tales to the everyday magic that turns caterpillars into butterflies. "[S]omething very dreadful and frightening happens inside the chrysalis," she points out. "We use the word 'cocoon' now to mean a place of safety and escape, but in fact the caterpillar, having constructed its own grave, does not develop smoothly, growing wings onto its first body, but disintegrates entirely, breaking down into organic slime which then regenerates in a completely new form. It goes as a child into the dark place and is lost; it emerges as the princess, or proven hero. The forest is full of such magic, in reality and in the stories."

Little Red Riding Hood by Richard Hermann Eschke

The Briarwood by Sir Edward Burne-Jones

My husband, Howard Gayton, a theatre director, uses the term "the Dark Forest" to refer to the part of the art-making process when we've lost our way: when the creation of a story or a painting or a play reaches a crisis point...when the path disappears, the idea loses steam, the plot line tangles, the palette muddies, and there is no way, it seems, to move forward. This often occurs, interestingly enough, right before true magic happens: first the crisis, then a breakthrough, an unexpected solution, and the piece comes to life. In a journal he wrote some years ago, while creating a fairy tale play in Portugal, he noted:

Brian Froud"Today I arrived in the middle of the Dark Forest, and the path has almost disappeared. It is scary now, and all the certainties have gone. The cast members are weary, and their ability to come up with interesting work has diminished. Even our opening meditation today felt tired. The Dark Forest. I knew I was heading into it, and, as always, the forest has its own way of manifesting in each creative project. Perhaps the performers are getting stuck and are unable to develop their parts. Perhaps it's that our storytelling has become flat, or that I'm neglecting some simple but crucial aspect of the directorial process. Or maybe it's all of these things....

"It's difficult to keep my original vision of the piece as I travel through the forest. I have to trust the vision I had at the start of the work, and that the ideas that have been set in motion will somehow come to fruition. I know that I can't lose faith now, even though at this point in the creative process one often starts to question the show, the cast, and one's own ability. I can't turn around. I have to keep going, through this tough period, and find energy from somewhere.

'I'm reminded of the first day of the pilgrimage I once took to Santiago de Compostela, biking alone across the Pyranees of France and Spain. I cycled up route Napoleon late in the day, as the sun was setting, knowing that no matter how exhausted I was I had to push on to Roncesvalles. I couldn't turn back, I was too far along the path -- but if I didn't get to the monastery before sundown, I could lose my way in those cold, dark mountains, even die of exposure. It's a similar feeling that I have now: I'm exhausted, I don't know when the turning point will come, but I have to plough on."

Troll in the Wood by John Bauer

So what should we do when we're in the Dark Forest, creatively or personally? Perservere. As Howard says, plough on. The gifts of the journey are worth the hardship, as writer & writing teacher Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew notes:

"When you enter the woods of a fairy tale, and it is night, the trees tower on either side of the path. They loom large because everything in the world of fairy tales is blown out of proportion. If the owl shouts, the otherwise deathly silence magnifies its call. The tasks you are given to do (by the witch, by the stepmother, by the wise old woman) are insurmountable -- pull a single hair from the crescent moon bear's throat; separate a bowl's worth of poppy seeds from a pile of dirt. The forest seems endless. But when you do reach the daylight, triumphantly carrying the particular hair or having outwitted the wolf; when the owl is once again a shy bird and the trees only a lush canopy filtering the sun, the world is forever changed for your having seen it otherwise. From now on, when you come upon darkness, you'll know it has dimension. You'll know how closely poppy seeds and dirt resemble each other. The forest will be just another story that has absorbed you, taken you through its paces, and cast you out again to your home with its rattling windows...."

And as Rainer Maria Rilke suggests (in Letters to a Young Poet):

"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."

Including the bears and the beasties, the fungi and faeries, the wolves and witches hidden in the deep forest...and the frightening, spell-binding, life-changing stories to be found only in the dark of the woods.

She Kissed the Bear on the Nose by John Bauer

Art above: "Fur, Feather, Tooth and Nail" by Arthur Rackham, "The Faery Ring" by Alan Lee, two illustrations for Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" by Arthur Rackham, "Chase of the White Mouse" by John Anster Fitzgerald, "Goblins" by Brian Froud, "The Gingerbread House" by Trina Schart Hyman, "The Queen's Pearl Necklace" by John Bauer, "Hansel and Gretel" by Arthur Rackham, "The Lamb and the Serpent" by Arthur Rackham, "Little Red Riding Hood" by Richard Hermann Eschke, "The Briarwood" (from the Briar Rose series) by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, "Through the Dark Forest" by Brian Froud, "Troll in the Wood" by John Bauer, and "She Kissed the Bear on the Nose" by John Bauer.


Into the Woods, 6: Wild Community

Art copyright by Brian Froud

Art copyright by Wendy Froud

Art copyright by Alan Lee

"Time and time again I am astounded by the regularity and repetition of form in this valley and elsewhere in wild nature: basic patterns, sculpted by time and the land, appearing everywhere I look. The twisted branches in the forest that look so much like the forked antlers of the deer and elk. The way the glacier-polished hillside boulders look like the muscular, rounded bodies of the animals -- deer, bear -- that pass among these boulders like loving ghosts. The way the swirling deer hair is the exact shape and size of the larch and pine needles the deer hair lies upon one it is torn loose and comes to rest on the forest floor. As if everything up here is leaning in the same direction, shaped by the same hands, or the same mind; not always agreeing or in harmony, but attentive always to the same rules of logic and in the playing-out, again and again, of the infinite variations of specificity arising from that one shaping system of logic an incredible sense of community develops . . . 

Art copyright by Marja Lee Kruyt

. . . felt at night when you stand beneath the stars and see the shapes and designs of bears and hunters in the sky; felt deep in the cathedral of an old forest, when you stare up at the tops of the swaying giants; felt when you take off your boots and socks and wade across the river, sensing each polished, mossy stone with your bare feet. Felt when you stand at the edge of the marsh and listen to the choral uproar of the frogs, and surrender to their shouting, and allow yourself, too, like those pine needles and that deer hair, like those branches and those antlers, to be remade, refashioned into the shape and the pattern and the rhythm of the land. Surrounded, and then embraced, by a logic so much more powerful and overarching than anything that a man or woman could create or even imagine that all you can do is marvel and laugh at it, and feel compelled to give, in one form or another, thanks and celebration for it, without even really knowing why."  

- Rick Bass ("The Return," Orion Magazine)

Art copyright by David Wyatt

Root Dog

“Ethics that focus on human interactions, morals that focus on humanity's relationship to a Creator, fall short of these things we've learned. They fail to encompass the big take-home message, so far, of a century and a half of biology and ecology: life is -- more than anything else -- a process; it creates, and depends on, relationships among energy, land, water, air, time and various living things. It's not just about human-to-human interaction; it's not just about spiritual interaction. It's about all interaction. We're bound with the rest of life in a network, a network including not just all living things but the energy and nonliving matter that flows through the living, making and keeping all of us alive as we make it alive."

Carl Safina (The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World)

Art copyright by Virginia Lee

“If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. We are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate.”  - Terry Tempest Williams

Art copyright by Rima StainesMore art from the woods of Devon: "What He Didn't See" by Brian Froud, , woodland faery sculpture by Wendy Froud, woodland faery drawing by Alan Lee,  "Imbolc" by Marja Lee Kruyt"The Gidleigh Goat" by David Wyatt, Tilly among the roots, "Summer Land" by Virginia Lee, and "Bluebell Honeymoon" by Rima Staines.


Into the Woods, 5: Wild Folklore

Green Man by Brian Froud

The Green Man is a pre–Christian symbol found carved into the wood and stone of pagan temples and graves, of medieval churches and cathedrals, and used as a Victorian architectural motif, across an area stretching from Ireland in the west to Russia in the east. Although commonly perceived as an ancient Celtic symbol, in fact its origins and original meaning are shrouded in mystery. The name dates back only to 1939, when folklorist Lady Raglan drew a connection between the foliate faces in English churches and the Green Man (or "Jack of the Green") tales of folklore. The evocative name has been widely adopted, but the legitimacy of the connection still remains controversial, with little real evidence to settle the question one way or the other. Earliest known examples of the foliate head (as it was known prior to Lady Raglan) date back to classical Rome — yet it was not until this pagan symbol was adopted by the Christian church that the form fully developed and proliferated across Europe. Most folklorists conjecture that the foliate head symbolized mythic rebirth and regeneration, and thus became linked to Christian iconography of resurrection. (The Tree of Life, a virtually universal symbol of life, death and regeneration, was adapted to Christian symbolism in a similar manner.)

Green Man Carving

Oxford Jack-in-the-GreenThe Jack in the Green is a figure associated with the new growth of spring, fertility, and May Day celebrations. In a number of English towns (such as Hastings in East Sussex) the Jack pageant is still re-enacted each year. The Jack in the Green is played by a man in a towering eight–foot–tall costume of leaves, topped by a masked face and a crown made out of flowers. He travels through the streets accompanied by men (and now women) dressed and painted all in green, others dressed and painted entirely black, and children bearing flowers. Morris and clog dancers entertain the crowds while the Jack, a trickster figure (and traditionally lecherous) chases pretty girls and plays the fool. When he reaches a certain place, the Morris dancers wield their wooden swords and strike the leaf man dead. A poem is solemnly recited over his body,  and then general merriment breaks out as the crowd plucks Jack's leaves off for luck.

("The killing of a tree spirit,"  notes James Frazer in The Golden Bough, "is always associated with a revival or resurrection of him in a more youthful and vigorous form.")

Jack-in-the-Green

Tree men aren't unique to the British Isles; they can be found in folk pageants all over Europe. In Bavaria, for example, a tree–spirit called the pfingstl roams through rural towns clad in alder and hazel leaves, with a high pointed cap covered by flowers. Two boys with swords accompany him as he knocks on the doors of random houses, asking for presents but often getting thoroughly drenched by water instead. This pageant also ends when the boys draw their wooden swords and kill the green man. In a ritual from Picardy, a member of the Compagnons du Loup Vert (dressed in a green wolf skin and foliage) enters the village church carrying a candle and garlands of flowers. He waits until the Gloria is sung, then he walks to the alter and stands through the mass. At its end, the entire congregation rushes up to strip the green wolf of his leaves.

The Green Man's female counterpart is the Green Woman, or the Sheela-Na-Gig . . .

Green Women drawings by Brian Froud

Sheela-Na-Gig carving

. . . usually depicted in stone carvings as a primitive female form giving birth to a spray of vegetation. Green Women are far less common than Green Men, being rather harder to adapt to Christian iconography or Victorian decoration -- and yet quite a few them appear in Romaneque churches built before the 16th century. Although Ireland has the greatest number of Sheela-Na-Gigs, they can be found throughout the British Isles, as well as in France, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.

Like the sacred "yoni" carvings of India, it was once customary to lick one's finger and touch the Sheela-Na-Gig's vulva for good fortune.

A Shrine for the Mother of Birds by Fidelma Massey

A number of contemporary artists have found inspiration in the ancient lore of the wood, including Brian Froud in Devon (creator of the Green Man painting and Green Women drawings in this post) and Fidelma Massey in Ireland (creator of mythic sculpture like the magical tree-woman above, "A Shrine to the Mother of All Birds"). There have also been two international art series recently that have drawn their inspiration from the folklore of the wild: Eyes as Big as Plates (originating in Norway) and Wilder Mann (originating in France).

From Eyes as Big as Plates, Norway

Eyes as Big as Plates, Finland

The two photographs directly above, and the one directly below, come from Eyes as Big as Plates, an ongoing project dreamed up by artists Riitta Ikonen (originally from Finland) and Karoline Hjorth (from Norway). "Inspired by the romantics’ belief that folklore is the clearest reflection of the soul of a people," says Ikonen, "Eyes as Big as Plates started out as a play on characters and protagonists from Norwegian folklore. During a one month residency at the Kinokino Centre for Art and Film in south-west Norway, Karoline and I collaborated with sailors, farmers, professors, artisans, psychologists, teachers, parachuters and senior citizens. The series then moved on to exploring the mental landscape of the neighborly and pragmatic Finns."  The third chapter of the project has taken Ikonen and Hjorth to New York City this spring.

“This blending of figure and ground," explains the artists, "recalls the way in which folk narratives animate the natural world through a personification of nature. The slippage of elderly figures into the landscapes suggests a return to the earth, a celebration of lives lived, reinforcing the link between humanity and the natural world.” 

From Eyes as Big as Plates, Finland

The images below come from Wilder Mann, a photography series by Charles Fréger (based in Rouen, France), who spent two years traveling around Europe documenting the folk pageants and festivals of what he calls "tribal Europe." The resulting photographic exhibition just moved from New York to Switzerland, and the images have been collected into a stunningly beautiful art book. (You can see more of Fréger's photographs here.)

As Rachel Hartigan Shea explains in an article about the series, "Traditionally the festivals are a rite of passage for young men. Dressing in the garb of a bear or wild man is a way of 'showing your power,' says Fréger. Heavy bells hang from many costumes to signal virility. The question is whether Europeans — civilized Europeans — believe that these rituals must be observed in order for the land, the livestock, and the people to be fertile. Do they really believe that costumes and rituals have the power to banish evil and end winter? 'They all know they shouldn’t believe it,' says Gerald Creed, who has studied mask traditions in Bulgaria. Modern life tells them not to. But they remain open to the possibility that the old ways run deep.'"

Likewise, the mythic scholar Daniel C. Noel is struck by the masculine power of Green Man lore: "Whether the Green Man, is some sort of Jungian archetype 'returning' from a primeval past, a Celtic survival in the psyche, seems not as important to me as the metaphor he constitutes for men, and for the gender-embattled culture, in the present and future.  Whatever the metaphysics of this fascinating figure, it is enough that he is a green ideal and a good idea arriving from wherever to inspire us. We have needed a Father Nature for a long time, and never more urgently than now, when all over the planet, armored men, in or out of uniform, terrorize each other, women and children, and what remains of the wildwood." 

Photograph copyright by Charles Fréger

Let's give Henry David Thoreau the last word today on why the wild and the folklore of the wild still matter: "Shall I not have intelligence with the earth?" he asks (in Walden). "Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?"

Photographs copyright by Charles Fréger

Photograph copyright by Charles Fréger

The art above: A Green Man painting by Brian Froud; a Green Man carving in a church near Birmingham; Jack-in-the-Greens in Oxford and the City of London (photographs from the "In the Company of the Green Man" blog);  Green Women drawings by Brian Froud; a Sheela-na-gig carving at a church in County Clare, Ireland; "A Shrine for the Mother of the Birds" by Fidelma Massey; three photographs from Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth's "Eyes as Big as Plates" collaborative art project, the first from Norway, the second two from Finland; and four photographs from Charles Fréger's "Wilder Mann" series: a sauvage in Switerland, three kurkeri in Bulgaria, a careto in Portugal, and a devil in St. Nicholas' retinue in the Czech Republic. All art works are copyright by the artists. 

Some recommended reading, nonfiction: "The Land of the Green Man" by Carolyne Larrington; "Gossip from the Forest" by Sara Maitland (published as "From the Forest" in the US), "Forests" by Robert Pogue Harrison, "Green Man" by William Anderson & Clive Hicks, "Sheela-Na-Gigs" by Barbara Freitag, and "Meetings With Remarkable Trees" by Thomas Pakenham. Fiction: The Mythago Wood Series by Robert Holstock; "Forests of the Heart," "The Wild Wood," and  "Jack in the Mist" by Charles de Lint; "In the Forests of Serre," "Winter Rose," and "Solstice Wood" by Patricia McKillp; "The Bear and the Nightingale" by Katherine Arden; "Tender Morsels" by Margo Lanagan; and "The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest," a Datlow-Windling anthology. For children: "Grumbles from the Forest" by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Kai Dotlich and "Into the Forest" by Anthony Browne. Poetry: "The Forest" by Susan Stewart. Art: "Wood" by Andy Goldsworthy and "Wilder Mann" by Charles Frer.

Today's post goes out to mythic maskmaker's Shane & Leah Odom; and to Charles de Lint, who brough Green Men to Bordertown.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Tree Nymph by Virgina Lee

I'm running late this morning as I'm a bit under the weather today, but here are the Monday Tunes at last: some music from the woods and wilds in order to keep to our woodlands theme. These songs come from Soundcloud rather than YouTube because I couldn't find video performances of the pieces I particularly wanted to play this morning....

First up, "Home" by the Michigan alt-folk trio Breathe Owl Breathe, gently calling us out of the house and out of doors:

Next, "On Trees and Birds and Fire," a magical little tune from I Am the Oak, the band of the Dutch singer/songwriter Thijs Kuijken, based in Utrecht:

Third is "Furr," a charming story of woods, wolves, and transformation from the Oregon alt-folk band Blitzen Trapper:

Next, "The Wild Hunt," a rather upbeat song about death and the Wild Hunt legends of northern Europe: myth meets Bob Dylan. It comes The Tallest Man On Earth, which is the stage name of the Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson:

And last, here's the English alt-folk band Matthew & the Atlas, calling us back from the wilds again with their utterly gorgeous song "Come Out of the Woods":

 

Beauty as the Beast by Virginia Lee

 

The drawings above are "Tree Nymph" and "Beauty as the Beast" by the always-amazing Virginia Lee, no stranger to the wilds herself.


Into the Woods, 4: The Dog's Tale

Tilly Coming Down From Nattadon Hill by Stu JenksThe Dog's Tales: a series of posts in which Tilly has her say....

I've been asked to give my thoughts on woods and wilderness from a furry, four-footed perspective. It's simple. We should spend more time there.

My People are intelligent People, and so I don't understand how they have gotten this matter precisely backwards. We spend some time each day outdoors, but many more hours in the House or Studio. Surely it is obvious that this is the reverse of what life ought to be?

My People like poetry, and so I present this poem by Mary Oliver to make my case. This poet belongs to a dog named Percy. Percy is very wise.


Percy and Books

Percy does not like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it, and moans.
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out, and the neighbor's dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say, Ideas! The elegance of language!
The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories
that rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.
Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was not enough. Let's go.

 

Photograph above: "Tilly Windling-Gayton Coming Down From Nattadon Hill" by Stu Jenks.