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September 2014

The Dog's Tale: A Time for Reflection

The front garden bench, September.The Dogs Tales are a series of posts in which Tilly has her say....

It's the end September, the trees are turning to gold and the hillside bracken to rust. The days are warm but the nights are cold, and dusk carries the scent of woodsmoke. At summer's end, I feel a Dog must pause to reflect on the season just past.

Looking over the village from the top of our hill.

It's been a good summer: plenty of sunshine, long walks, loafing in the garden, snoozing in the grass, and journeys to wild places with my Pack. I have waded through streams and paddled in rivers.

Cooling off in a woodland stream.

Cooling off in the river.

I have leapt through the waves and wallowed in the mud.

On the north Devon coast, reflecting once again. I am a Dog who takes life seriously.

But not too seriously. And sometimes I prefer to be a Seal.

The ecstasy of mud.

Family and friends came all the way from London and New York just to see me. (I encouraged them to visit with my People too.)

Beautiful me with my Pack-Sister Victoria and my friends Rachel & Owen, and Ellen & Delia.

I got to stay with my Beloved-est Friend when the rest of my Pack went up to the Big City. This is his portrait of me:

Tilly by David Wyatt

I went to Chagford Carnival, listened to my favorite band (The Nosey Crows), and graciously allowed small People to pet me. Then a Mouse passed by who smelled just like my Person.

The Chagford librarian and a giant Mouse.

It was very strange.

And who is that White Rabbit? She looks familiar...

Yes, it was an excellent summer. That is, in all respects but one:

The Cat population next door has grown. There must be seven or eight of them now. I patrol my territory from dawn to dusk, and keep watch indoors through the back bedroom window, but those fiendish Felines still get into the garden, strutting across the grass and taunting me.

I chase, I chase, dear god, I chase ... but the devilish creatures are too quick! Up they go, over the fence, across the rooftops ... leaving me (so close! so close!) veritably whimpering with my frustration. It's a serious job, protecting my People from Cats, and a good Dog's work is never done.

Spying on Cats.

Where did they go...?

Now it is autumn. We've harvested the plums and apples, the peas and cucumbers, the lavender and the lemon balm.  The flowers are fading, the grape vine is drooping, and the little pond is thick with weeds and shadows. There are Frogs in the pond, Birds in the trees ... and far too many Squirrels for my liking. They throw nuts at the studio roof to crack them open, and it drives me wild.

The plum tree by the studio.

The Buddha by the studio pond.

A studio Frog

Friendly Frog

Blackberry season is almost over, though there are still plenty left if you know where to find them. I love blackberries. I love eating them all along the paths winding over our hill, risking the prick of  brambles to lip that dark, sweet juiciness down.

This year I've discovered a new technique. I stop beside a good cluster of berries, look up at my Person, and then back at the berries. Then I do it again, sometimes two or three times, until my intent is clear. She plucks the berries out of the brambles and I eat them from the soft palm of her hand. She is a very good Person, gentle and easily trained. I chose her well.

There are blackberries all along the path

My Person demonstrates her training.

'Good girl,' I tell her, and then I snarfle those berries down.

Yes, it's been a fine Dartmoor summer. I hope it will be a fine autumn too, both here on Dartmoor and wherever else in the world that you may be. I wish you many walks, sweet berries, and good companions on every path you roam. Blessings to you and all your Pack.

Love, Tilly

Always treat your Pack with kindness and love.

Happy autumn!Image credits: The sketch of me above is by my Beloved, David Wyatt; the photo of Owen & Rachel jumping on Chagford Common was taken by Owen & Rachel themselves (how did they do that?); the photo of me &  Delia Sherman by the fairy spring on Chagford Common is by Ellen Kushner;  the Chagford Carnival photos are by Lin Copeland, from the "Friends of Chagford Library" site.  All  other photos are by my Person. Mostly starring me.

This post is dedicated to young Cinnamon, her Person (Karen Meisner) and her brand new Pack. Be sure to train your People well, grasshopper. It's never too early to start.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

A hushed, misty morning in the studio

It's a a hushed and misty morning in Devon, perfect for a bit of time-traveling...so let's go back to the 1960s with the music of Simon and Garfunkel.

I was a child in that legendary era, and the musical poetry of Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Michell, Janice Ian and other songwriters of the '60s and early '70s whetted my taste for printed poetry and literature as much as any books on the shelves. I'm grateful to have been born at a time when these masters of the form were on the pop radio airways. I'd listen to them on a transitor radio clutched under my pillow at night (at a highly impressionable age), and a sizable portion of what I know about the rhythm and sound of good writing surely comes from them.

In the video below, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform "Sounds of Silence" for Canadian television in 1966. They'd both grown up in Queens, started working together in 1963, and were 24 years old at the time of this television broadcast. The song comes from their second album, Sounds of Silence (1965).

Next:

Paul and Art perform "Scarborough Fair" (a variant of  Child Ballad 1) and "Homeward Bound" (by Paul Simon) at a reunion concert in New York's Central Park in 1981. The songs were first recorded for their third album, Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme (1966).

Below:

"America" performed by the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit at the Polar Music Prize ceremony in Stockholm (2012). It's an appropriate song for Johanna and Klara Söderberg to sing, having been so influenced by American folk and country music themselves...but imagine how nervous they must have been to perform it with Paul Simon in the audience! The song was first recorded on S&G's fourth album, Bookends (1968), twenty-two years before the Söderberg sisters were born.

And last:

"The Boxer" (audio only), performed by the English alt folk band Mumford & Sons, backed up by two American country music greats: Emmylou Harris and Jerry Douglas (2012). The song comes from S&G's fifth album, Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970).


On fantasy, realism, and telling the truth

The Fairy Scribe by Alan Lee

From Lloyd Alexander in "Perilous Realms: A Colloquy" (Innocence & Experience):

"The pitfall in writing fantasy is not adding enough realism. Fantasy deals with the impossible, not the illogical. Creating a secondary world where the impossible becomes ordinary does not carry with it a license to do as one pleases. In conception, and in its deep substructures, the fantasy world must, if anything, be more carefully rationalized than the real world.

"The real world, as we all know, sometimes to our bewilderment, is often illogical, inconsistent, a kind of elaborate random walk. In fantasy, magical elements have to make sense in their own framework. The goal, of course, is to make fantasy seem absolutely real and convincing. This statement applies not only to setting but to characters as well. The writer may populate his imaginary world with all manner of imaginary creatures, human or otherwise. But within that world they must be as carefully observed as in any work of realism. They must have weight, solidity, dimension. Their fantastic condition must speak to our real one.

Fairy Queen by Alan Lee

Fairies in the Wood by Alan Lee

"Sheer inventiveness can be amusing, entertaining, even dazzling, and I don't mean to downgrade it. The danger is that too often it can turn into sheer gimmickry. Choosing the wrong form is, I think, probably the biggest risk in any kind of creation. Fantasy, however, seems to offer special temptations. To the unwary writer it promises such fun and freedom, great soaring flights of unbounded imagination. This promise can turn out to be a siren song. Before listening to it, the writer would be well advised to ask, Why fantasy instead of some other form? Unless fantasy is the best and only way a writer can express what is deepest in his mind and heart, the writer should consider some other mode and spare himself, and his readers, much labor and grief.

An illustration from Merlin Dreams by Alan Lee

"This is not to say that writers of realism have it ay easier or are any less vulnerable to dangers. If a work of fantasy can fail through lack of realism, a work of realism can fail can fail through lack of fantasy. In this case I use the word fantasy in the sense of transformative imagination. Realism is not reality. The magic of realism is that it can seem to be real life, more real even than life itself. But this marvelous illusion comes from the transformative imagination of the writer -- imagination that shapes, manipulates, and illuminates. Without it the work is only a play of surfaces.

" 'True to life' may not always be true enough. The difficulty is perhaps in confusing truth with objectivity. By its very nature, art can never be objective. Try as we might, we can't 'tell it like it is.' We can only tell it the way it seems to us. And this, of course, is what we must do -- in realism or in fantasy -- if we hope to create anything of durable value.

"We have always needed good art to sustain us, to strengthen us, even to console us for being born human. Where better can we learn to see through the eyes of others, to gain compassion, to try to make sense of the world outside ourselves and the world within ourselves?"

The Sorceress by Alan LeeThe gorgeous drawings here are by my friend and village neighbor Alan Lee. All rights reserved by the artist. To read Lloyd Alexander's full remarks on the subject of fantasy & realism, seek out Inncocence & Experience: Conversations and Essays on Children's Literature, Harrison & Maguire, eds. (Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books, 1987). I recommend it highly.


Writing without roots

Morning coffee

Morning visitors

From "Where is Terabitha?" by Katherine Paterson (Innocence & Experience):

"Flannery O'Connor, whose words about writing have meant a great deal to me, has said that writing is incarnational. By incarnational we mean that somehow the word or the idea has taken on flesh, has become physical, actual, real. We mean that the abstract idea can be percieved by the way of the senses. This immediately makes fiction different from other kinds of stories. The fairy tale begins, 'Once upon a time,' thus clearly signaling its intent to escape the actual and the everyday, but a novel takes its life from the petty details of its geography, history, and culture.

Dartmoor pony and foal

"This is one of the reasons that writers like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and William Faulkner move us so powerfully. Their roots are planted very deep in a particular soil, and they grow up and reach out from that place with a strength unknown to most writers. It is also the reason why a writer like Pasternak would refuse the Nobel Prize rather than leave Russia. For Russia, despite her terror and oppression, was the soil from which his genius sprang, and he feared that if he left her, he would leave behind his ability to write.

Mother & child

P1110898

A foal's breakfast

"What happens, then, to a writer without roots -- who is not grounded in a particular place? When I was four years old, we left 'home,' and I've never been back since. Indeed, I couldn't go back if I wanted to because the house in which we lived was torn down so that a bus station could be built on the site. Since I was four, I've lived in three different countries and seven states at about thirty different addresses. I was once asked as part of an imaginative exercise to remember in detail the house I had grown up in. I nearly had a mental breakdown on the spot. But the fact that I have no one place to call home does not make me feel that place in fiction is unimportant. On the contrary, it convinces me that I must work harder than any almost any writer I know to create or re-create the world in which a story is set and grows if I want to make a reader believe it."

Wild family

Watching quietlyPhotos above: Morning coffee under the old oak, and three visitors. Some previous posts on the subject of place: Thoughts About Home, More Thoughts About Home and Staying Home. I'm also reminded of Christina Cairn's lovely post, Meditations on Home, at A Mermaid in the Attic (2011).


The journey to Ithaka, the pathway to the sea

The journey begins

From "A Writer's Journey" by Eleanor Cameron (Innocence & Experience):

What makes the artist's journey exhilarating, she says, is that "one never knows what will emerge from the unconcious, memories that, suprisingly enough, begin coalescing into a pattern, only dimly perceived at first. But before long, for some mysterious reason, this pattern begins taking on the substance and detail that tell the writer that another novel, not necessarily of the past, is coming into being.

The pathway to the Sea

"It is something to be grateful for because it can be devastating to see nothing in the offing. I remember Lloyd Alexander saying, when I congratulated him on his latest book, 'Oh, but I haven't an idea what to do next. It's terrible -- I'm utterly barren and it frightens me!' He had not the faintest notion that  The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha would appear within the next two years, not to speak of the Westmark trilogy during the four after that. There are seven lines near the end of Cavafy's poem 'Ithaka' that particularly move me:

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich."

The secret cove

At high tide

"As we sit at our desks, struggling to bring a conception into existence, we are always trying -- if we are serious and not simply working for money and attention -- to make ourselves worthy of the vision, no matter how modest the accomplishment. There, for me at least, lies the mingled hardship and true joy of writing, the journey taken."

Into the unknown

And then there were two

Exilaration

From "The Life Journey" by John Rowe Townsend (Innocence & Experience):

''The life journey is a hero's journey. Although we may not feel very heroic, we are all embarked on the heroic quest, to live lives that have meaning for ourselves and others. We are on our individual Odysseys, our personal roads of trials. We have had our adventures, and we shall have more, but we shall come to Ithaka at last.''

True joyPhotos above: Howard, Victoria, and Tilly on the South West Coast Path and Watcombe Beach, south Devon, on a misty day.