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May 2013

Into the Woods, 3: Tales of the Forest

The Forest Tarn by John Bauer

In Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairy Tales, Sara Maitland writes:

"Forests to the [early] Northern European peoples were dangerous and  generous, domestic and wild, beautiful and terrible. And the forests were the terrain out of which fairy stories, one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, evolved. The mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forest are both the background to and source of these tales....

"Forests are places where a person can get lost and also hide -- and losing and hiding, of things and people, are central to European fairy stories in ways that are not true of similar stories in different geographies. Landscape informs the collective imagination as much as or more than it forms the individual psyche and its imagination, but this dimension is not something to which we always pay enough attention.

He Too Saw the Image in the Water by Kay Nielsen

"I believe that the great stretches of forests in northern Europe, with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonish biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairy tales we know best. There are secrets, hidden identities, cunning disguises; there are rhythms of change like the changes of the seasons; there are characters, both human and animal, whose assistance can be earned or spurned; and there is -- over and over again -- the journey or quest, which leads first to knowledge and then to happiness. The forest is the place of trial in fairy stories, both dangerous and exciting. Coming to terms with the forest, surviving its terrors, utilising its gifts and gaining its help is the way to 'happy ever after.'

Lost in the Woods by Charles Robinson

"Now fairy stories are at risk too, like the forests. Padraic Column has suggested that artificial lighting dealt them a mortal wound: when people could read and be productive after dark, something fundamental changed, and there was no longer need or space for the ancient oral tradition. The stories were often confined to books, which makes the text static, and they were handed over to children.

Thumbelina by Adrienne Segur

"The whole tradition of [oral] story telling is endangered by modern technology. Although telling stories is a very fundamental human attribute, to the extent that psychiatry now often treats 'narrative loss' -- the inability to construct a story of one's own life -- as a loss of identity or 'personhood,' it is not natural but an art form -- you have to learn to tell stories. The well-meaning mother is constantly frustrated by the inability of her child to answer questions like 'What did you do today?' (to which the answer is usually a muttered 'nothing' -- but the 'nothing' is cover for 'I don't know how to tell a good story about it, how to impose a story shape on the events'). To tell stories, you have to hear stories and you have to have an audience to hear the stories you tell. Oral story telling is economically unproductive -- there is no marketable product; it is out with the laws of patents and copyright; it cannot easily be commodified; it is a skill without monetary value. And above all, it is an activity requiring leisure -- the oral tradition stands squarely against a modern work ethic....Traditional fairy stories, like all oral traditions, need the sort of time that isn't money.

"The deep connect between the forests and the core stories has been lost; fairy stories and forests have been moved into different catagories and, isolated, both are at risk of disappearing, misunderstood and culturally undervalued, 'useless' in the sense of 'financially unprofitable.' "

In "Turning Our Fairy Tales Wild Again," Sylvia Linsteadt asks:

"When we walk, holding stories in us, do they touch the ground through our footprints?What is this power of metaphor, by which we liken a thing we see to a thing we imagine or have seen before -- the granite crag to an old crystalline heart -- changing its form, allowing animation to suffuse the world via inference? Metaphor, perhaps, is the tame, the civilised, version of shamanic shapeshifting, word-magic, the recognition of stories as toothed messengers from the wilds. What if we turned the old nursery rhymes and fairytales we all know into feral creatures once again, set them loose in new lands to root through the acorn fall of oak trees? What else is there to do, if we want to keep any of the wildness of the world, and of ourselves?”

Fairies by Arthur Rackham

And in Wild: An Elemental Journey, Jay Griffiths remind us:

"What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied," "It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary."

It is indeed.

Catskin by Arthur Rackham 2

Pictures: "The Forest Tarn" by John Bauer (Norway), "He Too Saw the Image in the Water" by Kay Nielsen (Denmark), "Lost in the Woods" by Charles Robinson (England),"Thumbelina" by Adrienne Segur (France), "The White Stag" by  Helen Stratton (England), "Fairies" and "Catskin" by Arthur Rackham (England).

Words: The quotes above are from Gossip From the Forest by Sara Maitland (Granta, 2013); "Turning Fairy Tales Feral Again" by Sylvia Linsteadt (The Dark Mountain Project & Resilience, 2013); and Wild by Jay Griffiths (Penguin, 2008); all highly recommended. All rights to the text reserved by the authors.


Into the Woods, 2: The Gift of Wonder

In the lovely video above, children's book author Cornelia Funke speaks about the need for wilderness in children's lives. "Kids are so very good at still being shape-shifters," she says, "and shifting into feathers and fur. They still understand that we are connected to everything in this world, and that we are part of an incredibly intricate woven web of life and creatures."

Raised and educated in Germany, Funke was originally a book illustrator before turning her hand to writing fiction herself -- creating magical novels such as the The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, and The Inkheart Trilogy that have become international bestsellers. She now lives in Los Angeles.

The Deer Child copyright Terri Windling

"In a way that I haven’t yet figured out how to fully articulate, I believe that children who get to see bald eagles, coyotes, deer, moose, grouse, and other similar sights each morning will have a certain kind of matrix or fabric or foundation of childhood, the nature and quality of which will be increasing rare and valuable as time goes on, and which will be cherished into adulthood, as well as becoming -- and this is a leap of faith by me -- a source of strength and knowledge to them somehow. That the daily witnessing of the natural wonders is a kind of education of logic and assurance that cannot be duplicated by any other means, or in other place: unique and significant, and, by God, still somehow relevant, even now, in the twenty-first century. For as long as possible, I want my girls to keep believing that beauty, though not quite commonplace and never to pass unobserved or unappreciated, is nonetheless easily witnessed on any day, in any given moment, around any forthcoming bend."   - Rick Bass ("The Return" )

Bunny girl sketch copyright Terri Windling

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”  - Rachel Carson (A Sense of Wonder)

“I wonder how it is we have come to this place in our society where art and nature are spoke in terms of what is optional, the pastime and concern of the elite?”  - Terry Tempest Williams (Leap)

Bunny friends sketch copyright by Terri WindlingThis post is for Charlotte Hills and all of the other teachers out there, with gratitude for the vital work you do. The pictures above: one of the deer children from my old Desert Spritis series, and two bunny girls from a Devon sketchbook.


Into the Woods, 1: The Language of the Earth

Threshold Bluebells

“The image of a wood has appeared often enough in English verse. It has indeed appeared so often that it has gathered a good deal of verse into itself; so that it has become a great forest where, with long leagues of changing green between them, strange episodes of poetry have taken place. Thus in one part there are lovers of a midsummer night, or by day a duke and his followers, and in another men behind branches so that the wood seems moving, and in another a girl separated from her two lordly young brothers, and in another a poet listening to a nightingale but rather dreaming richly of the grand art than there exploring it, and there are other inhabitants, belonging even more closely to the wood, dryads, fairies, an enchanter's rout. The forest itself has different names in different tongues -- Westermain, Arden, Birnam, Broceliande; and in places there are separate trees named, such as that on the outskirts against which a young Northern poet saw a spectral wanderer leaning, or, in the unexplored centre of which only rumours reach even poetry, Igdrasil of one myth, or the Trees of Knowledge and Life of another. So that indeed the whole earth seems to become this one enormous forest, and our longest and most stable civilizations are only clearings in the midst of it.”  ― Charles Williams (The Figure of Beatrice)

Art by Alan Lee

"I’ve often thought of the forest as a living cathedral, but this might diminish what it truly is. If I have understood Koyukon teachings, the forest is not merely an expression or representation of sacredness, nor a place to invoke the sacred; the forest is sacredness itself. Nature is not merely created by God; nature is God. Whoever moves within the forest can partake directly of sacredness, experience sacredness with his entire body, breathe sacredness and contain it within himself, drink the sacred water as a living communion, bury his feet in sacredness, touch the living branch and feel the sacredness, open his eyes and witness the burning beauty of sacredness.”    - Richard Nelson (The Island Within)

Late Daffodils

Spring Flowers and the Springador Pup

Wlldflowers

Art by Wendy Froud

The Lords & Ladies

“He stood staring into the wood for a minute, then said: 'What is it about the English countryside -- why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?'

"He sounded faintly sad. Perhaps he finds beauty saddening -- I do myself sometimes. Once when I was quite little I asked father why this was and he explained that it was due to our knowledge of beauty's evanescence, which reminds us that we ourselves shall die. Then he said I was probably too young to understand him; but I understood perfectly.”   - Dodie Smith (I Capture the Castle)

Woodland Path

“All forests have their own personality. I don't just mean the obvious differences, like how an English woodland is different from a Central American rain forest, or comparing tracts of West Coast redwoods to the saguaro forests of the American Southwest...they each have their own gossip, their own sound, their own rustling whispers and smells. A voice speaks up when you enter their acres that can't be mistaken for one you'd hear anyplace else, a voice true to those particular tress, individual rather than of their species.” ― Charles de Lint (The Onion Girl)

Art by David Wyatt

Dog Meditation

How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone,
with not a single friend,
for they are all smilers and talkers
and therefore unsuitable.
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree.
I have my ways of praying,
as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone
I can become invisible.
I can sit on the top of a dune
as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned.
I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me,
I must love you very much.

- Mary Oliver

Art by Rima Staines Storytelling

Art by Brian Froud

Robert Pogue Harrison (author of the Forests: The Shadow of Civilization) recommends the work of four other fine poets of the forest: Andrea Zanzotto, Susan StewartA.R. Ammons, and W.S. Merwin. But Harrison's fear is that "the rapidity with which our society is losing daily contact with the natural world will make it more and more unlikely that we will have poets of the forest like Zanzotto or Merwin, or Stewart, who grew up on a farm in the midst of Pennsylvania's forests. The more our worlds are detached and abstracted from nature in this daily way, the more I fear that poets will invoke the forests in only the most superficial of ways, without the kind of full-bodied authority that a lived relationship to the forest creates."

The late naturalist John Hay would have agreed that the forest poet must be one who knows the land, which takes both proximity and time. "There are occasions," he wrote (in The Immortal Wilderness), "when you can hear the mysterious language of the Earth: in water, or coming through the trees, emanating from the mosses, seeping through the under currents of the soil, but you have to be willing to wait and receive.”

As Tilly and I scramble over rock and root, as we do most mornings, rain or shine, I pray that our own small patch of woods remains safe, remains wild, remains here for future generations to come "home" to. I pray for patience to wait, and ears to listen, and a heart wide open, ready to receive. I want to be wild myself, like the woodland creatures in these paintings, in my quiet scribbler's way. But what is the wild? asks Louise Erdrich (in The Blue Jay's Dance). A place? A state of mind? The conjunction of these things? "What is wilderness?" she muses. "What are dreams but an internal wilderness and what is desire but a wildness of the soul?”

Bernard Malamud's answer is simple and speaks to all of us, rural and urban, young and old. “The wild," he says, "begins where you least expect it, one step off your normal course." 

Dog Joy

Art by Danielle Barlow

All of the "wild art" above comes from artists here in the village: An illustration for JRR Tolkien's "The Hobbit" by Alan Lee, faery sculptures in the daffodils by Wendy Froud, Spring Watch by David Wyatt (from his Local Characters series), trolls by Brian Froud (from his new book "Trolls"), Telling Stories to the Trees by Rima Staines, and Wolf Boy by Danielle Barlow.


Inhaling, Exhaling...

Standing Stone Near Merrivale by Stu Jenks

Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

How to be a Poet (to remind myself)
by Wendell Berry

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill -- more of each
than you have -- inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity…

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

(from Given: New Poems)

"The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves."   - Terry Tempest Williams (Leap)

Tallest Stone, Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

“I breathe in the soft, saturated exhalations of cedar trees and salmonberry bushes, fireweed and wood fern, marsh hawks and meadow voles, marten and harbor seal and blacktail deer. I breathe in the same particles of air that made songs in the throats of hermit thrushes and gave voices to humpback whales, the same particles of air that lifted the wings of bald eagles and buzzed in the flight of hummingbirds, the same particles of air that rushed over the sea in storms, whirled in high mountain snows, whistled across the poles, and whispered through lush equatorial gardens…air that has passed continually through life on earth. I breathe it in, pass it on, share it in equal measure with billions of other living things, endlessly, infinitely.”  - Richard Nelson (The Island Within)

“Breathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next.” - David Abram (Becoming Animal)

Three Stones, Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

Making art is like breathing. Creation is the exhalation, putting ideas, emotions, patterns, rhythms, and revelations of beauty out into the world through the materials of our chosen art forms. But first comes the inhalation. We can't produce and produce without stopping to breathe. We must take the world in: land and wind, books and song, love and passion, silence and conversation; all those things that inspire us, fill us, delight us, enrage us, alchemize into art inside of us; all those things that form and change and batter our lives and give us something to say; all those things that, mixed together in unique proportions, give us tales that are truly our own.

White Pony at Scorhill Circle by Stu Jenks

The Dartmoor photographs here are, once again, by Stu Jenks, from his visit here a couple of weeks ago. Above: "Standing Stone Near Merrivale," "Scorhill Circle," "Tallest Stone: Scorhill Circle," "Three Stones: Scorhill Circle," and "White Pony at Scorhill Circle." (Click on the images for larger versions.)

Below: "A Brown Pony Rubbing His Ass Against An Ancient Stone, A White Pony Scratching Her Neck Against Another." About this one, he says: "This, in visual metaphor, pretty much expresses my spiritual belief of finding the balance between the sacred and the profane."

A Brown Pony Rubbing His Ass Against An Ancient Stone, A White Pony Scratching Her Neck Against Another, Scorhill Circle by Stu jenks


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today's first tune, on this May morning so early, is a Flemish song called "The Maying Song" -- performed by the English folk musician Bella Hardy, with Ian Stephenson and Chris Sherburn. (Ignore the obnoxious advertisement at the video's start -- it goes away soon!)

Hardy, who is from the Peak District in Derbyshire, has five fine albums to date. This is a performance from 2008, because there aren't many good Hardy videos available, alas. If you'd like to hear a bit more of her music, try "The Driving of the Deer," from last year's CD, The Dark Peak and the White. And I particularly recommend her latest album, Battleplan, in which "traditional ballads are re-imagined from a female perspective, and personal experiences are reflected against fairy tales and folklore."

Next: another "roving out" song, but a bawdier version this time, sung by Kathryn Roberts. You may remember Roberts from her younger days, when she recorded a lovely debut CD with Kate Rusby. Now she's teamed up with her husband Sean Lakeman (Seth's brother), performing both original and traditional material. They've released three albums (1, 2, and Hidden People), and all of them are good.

Below: Kathryn Roberts again, solo this time, performing her "Ballad of Andy Jacobs" -- a sad and beautiful song about the miners' strikes under Thatcher, inspired by her childhood in a Yorkshire mining town. (She talks about this briefly at the end of the video.) This one is timely too, with Britain still reeling from Thatcher's divisive funeral.

Below, Kris Drever, with another poignant song about another tragic time in the UK's history: "The Poorest Company," about the Highland clearances. Drever, who is from the Orkney Isles of Scotland, has played with Kate Rusby, Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, and is one of the founding members of Lau. Here, he's performing at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, with Roddy Woomble, John McCusker, and Heidi Talbot. Although I like his CDs with Lau the best (they're just astonishingly good), his solo albums Black Water and Mark the Hard Earth are also very fine, as is Before the Ruin with Woomble and McCusker.

I was going to stop there, but let's end on a more hopeful note...

Below: "Start it all Over Again," an old Battlefield Band song exquisitely performed by Irish singer Heidi Talbot -- backed up by her husband, Scottish fiddler John McCusker, and Boo Hewerdine. Talbot, formerly of Cherish the Ladies, has released five solo albums, of which I especially like the latest, Angel Without Wings.

If you stutter or stumble, if dreams start to crumble
I'll pick up the pieces of pain.
I will cradle you, cry with you, pray that tonight we'll just
start it all over again...

Beautiful.


The Dog's Tale

What's this behind the oak?

I am the luckiest dog in the world, with woods and hills and fields to roam in, rivers to jump in, Evil Cats to guard my territory from, and plenty of Dastardly Squirrels to chase. Every day brings new surprises. Sometimes a deer bounds through the trees, or I flush a pheasant out of the grass. Sometimes I discover fresh fox poo (my favorite!), or wildflowers growing in a perfect circle where fairy feet have danced (we dogs can see the fairies, of course).

This week I spied a strange dark shape behind the old oak at the bottom of the hill. I thought it might be hedge witch or a troll (I found a troll quite close by last year) ...

...but it was another wild pony, down from the moor.  And she wasn't alone.

And she has a baby! All wet and wobbly and cute as a pup.

Behind her was a foal, still wobbly on its legs. I kept my distance, as I've been trained, but I wagged my tale, and the foal came walking over...while Mama Pony did the funniest thing.

Good grief, what is that pony doing???

She knealt down on the grass, rolled over and over, and kicked her legs. What fun!

What larks! hat joy! Can I join in?

First she rolled left, and then she rolled right...

It looks like fun!

...and then she rolled some more.

Maybe me and the baby could be friends. I could take her home and show her all my toys.

The foal battted her big eyes at me while the Mama jumped up and shook her tail...

But maybe she's still just a little too young.

...then Baby wobbled over to Mama, had a little cuddle...

Come back when you're older! I'll be waiting!

and they trotted away.

The Pony Dance 1

At home, I demonstrated for my People.

The Pony Dance 2

"First she kicked her legs like this," I said,

The Pony Dance 3

"and then like this and this."

The Pony Dance 4

I often do interpretive dance, and now I've learned some excellent new moves.

The Dancer's Reward

My People liked my Pony Dance much better than the last one, my Rolling in Fox Poo Dance. This time I got a nice new bone. Last time it was a bath and a telling off....


Rex, Howard, and Tilly

I'm delighted to pass on the following Public Service Announcement from my husband Howard and his elusive friend Rex...

The Barleycorn Boys Are Back in Town!

Guess who just got back today? Howard and Rex, those wild eyed boys who’ve been away.

We’ve been off the grid for a bit, wrestling with our creative muses. (Literally, in Rex’s case; he’s muddy and bruised!) Now spring has sprung, and we’re back in the virtual world, and we have a trinity of delights to share:

1. We’re now posting our complete graphic novel, John Barleycorn Must Die, online at a page a day on our new John Barleycorn blog. If you haven’t read it yet, now’s your chance.

The new blog: http://jbmdfalloftheskygods.blogspot.co.uk/

2. We also have a John Barleycorn Tumblr site, where we’ll be posting art work from the comic every day. (Just art, no text.) If you have a Tumblr account, please come follow us!

The new Tumblr: http://jbmdcomic.tumblr.com/

3. Rex now has a Facebook page (god help us!), called Rex Van Ryn Presents. He’ll be discussing all things comics related (artists who started in comics, celebrities who are comic enthusiasts, etc.), and providing links to what is happening in the comics world at the moment, particularly independent comics. It’s all just getting started, so please come join in the conversation (and keep an eye on Rex!)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rex-Van-Ryn-presents/459383104138082

Please join us on any or all these sites -- and if you know anyone interested in comics, would you please help us boost the signal?

It’s good to be back!

Howard & Rex

Picture above: Rex, Howard, Tilly, and Rex's invisible dog, who is also called Rex.


Messengers and mysteries

Threshold

"I want to extoll not the sweetness or placidity of the dog, but the wilderness out of which he cannot entirely step, and from which we benefit. For wilderness is our first home too, and in our wild ride into modernity with all its concerns and problems we need also all the good attachments to that origin that we can keep or restore. Dog is one of the messengers of that rich and still magical first world. The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, and the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps or runs but we learn from him....

"Because of the dog's joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would life be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?"

- Mary Oliver (Long Life)

Flow

You could grow into it,
that sense of living like a dog,
loyal to being on your own in the fur of your skin
able to exist only for the sake of existing....

You swell into survival,
     you take up the whole day,
you’re all there is,
     everything else is
not you, is every passing glint, is
    shadows brought to you by wind...

- Ioanna Carlsen (from her poem "Over and Over Tune")

O the wind and rain

“In a society so estranged from animals as ours, we often fail to credit them with any form of language. If we do, it comes under the heading of communication rather than speech. And yet, the great silence we have imposed on the rest of life contains innumerable forms of expression. Where does our own language come from but this unfathomed store that characterizes innumerable species?

"We are now more than halfway removed from what the unwritten word meant to our ancestors, who believed in the original, primal word behind all manifestations of the spirit. You sang because you were answered. The answers come from life around you. Prayers, chants, and songs were also responses to the elements, to the wind, the sun and stars, the Great Mystery behind them. Life on earth springs from a collateral magic that we rarely consult. We avoid the unknown as if we were afraid that contact would lower our sense of self-esteem.”

- John Hay (A Beginner's Faith in Things Unseen)

The fairy spring

"I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don't even know it.”

 - Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees)

Over the hill

"Love is a powerful tool, and maybe, just maybe, before the last little town is corrupted and the last of the unroaded and undeveloped wildness is given over to dreams of profit, maybe it will be love, finally, love for the land for its own sake and for what it holds of beauty and joy and spiritual redemption that will make wilderness not a battlefield but a revelation." 

- T.H. Watkins (Red Rock Chronicles)

The Messenger


Circles, stones, stories

Princep's Folly  Gidleigh Wood  Dartmoor  by Stu Jenks

From Dwellings, an essay collection by Linda Hogan of the Chickasaw nation:

" 'All beginnings wear their endings like dark shadows," says astronomer-physicist Chet Raymo. And maybe they do. If endings are foreshadowed by their beginnings, or are in some way the same thing, it is important that we circle around and come back to look at our human myths and stories. Unlike the cyclical nature of time for the Maya, the Western tradition of beliefs within a straight line of history leads to an apocalyptic end. And stories of the end, like those of the beginning, tell something about the people who created them....

"Without deep reflection, we have taken on the story of endings, assumed the story of extinction, and have believed that it is the certain outcome of our presence here. From this position, fear, bereavement, and denial keeps us in the state of estrangement from our natural connection with land.

"We need new stories, new terms and conditions that are relevant to the love of land, a new narrative that would imagine another way, to learn the infinite mystery and movement at work in the world. It would mean we, like the corn people of the Maya, give praise and nurture creation.

"Indian people must not be the only ones who remember the agreement with the land, the sacred pact to honor and care for the life that, in turn, provides for us. We need to reach a hand back through time and a hand forward , stand at the zero point of creation to be certain we do not create the absence of life, of any species, no matter how inconsequential they might appear to be. "

Scorhill Circle, Dartmoor, by Stu Jenks

Scorhill in Twilight Mist, Dartmoor, by Stu Jenks

"It is in our nature to need stories," inventor/philosopher Jag Bhalla agrees. "They are our earliest sciences, a kind of people-physics. Their logic is how we naturally think. They configure our biology, and how we feel, in ways long essential for our survival. Like our language instinct, a story drive -- an inborn hunger for story hearing and story making -- emerges untutored universally in healthy children. Every culture bathes their children in stories to explain how the world works and to engage and educate their emotions. Perhaps story patterns could be considered another higher layer of language. A sort of meta-grammar shaped by and shaping conventions of character types, plots, and social-rule dilemmas prevalent in our culture."

"The sense of being immersed in a sentient world is preserved in the oral stories and songs of indigenous peoples," writes cultural ecologist David Abram, "in the belief that sensible phenomena are all alive and aware, in the assumption that all things have the capacity of speech. Language, for oral peoples, is not a human invention but a gift of the land itself."

Meldon Hill, Chagford, Dartmoor, by Stu Jenks

East of Merrivale, Dartmoor, by Stu Jenks


The Mangler's Tower  Dartmoor  by Stu JenksThe lands around my dwelling
Are more beautiful
From the day
When it is given me to see
Faces I have never seen before.
All is more beautiful.
All is more beautiful.
And life is thankfulness.
These guests of mine
Make my house grand. 

- Eskimo song

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

- Gaelic blessing 


Standing Stone near Merrivale, Dartmoor, by Stu Jenks

The Dartmoor imagery in this post is by American photographer Stu Jenks, who visited Chagford recently and found much inspiration on the moor. Stu and I have been friends since my Arizona days, when our studios were in the art-infested Tooleshed Building in downtown Tucson. To see more of his work, please visit his Fezziwig website & blog, where he'll be adding other images from his travels in England and France in the days to come.

Ancient Oaks in Wistman's Wood  Dartmoor  by Stu Jenks

Tilly and the Daffordils, Nattadon Woods, Dartmoor, by Stu Jenks

The passage by Linda Hogan is from Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (W.W. Norton & Co., 2007). The quote by by Jag Bhalla is from "It is Our Nature to Need Stories" (Scientific American blog, May 8, 2013). The quote by David Abram is from The Spell of the Sensuous (Pantheon, 1996). Photograph titles are identified in the picture captions (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and photographer.


Coming up...

Widdershins Exhibition, poster art by Alan Lee, design by David Wyatt

This exhibition at Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead will feature work by Chagford artists Alan Lee, Virginia Lee, Brian & Wendy Froud, David Wyatt, Rima Staines, and yours truly, along with Hazel Brown, Paul Kidby, and Neil Wilkinson Cave. It's running most of the summer, so if you're local or making a trip down to Devon, keep it in mind...

There will also be a program of events (talks, readings, workshops, etc.). For more information, go to Green Hill Arts.

Exhibition poster art: The painting of faeries dancing widdershins is by Alan Lee, the design is by David Wyatt.