Tunes for a Monday Morning
Animal People

Stones in My Pocket:
On Grief, Change, and Myths of Death & Rebirth

A winter day in Devon


Winter

The earth now lies through nights drenched
in the still dark benediction of the rain
and dusky houses and branches stand out bleak
each day in mist, in white, and in the rustling wet.
All, all is rich and restful, with heavy
and secret and rich growth finding its way
through warm soil to every leaf and shoot
and binding everything – near, far – mysteriously
with moisture, fruitfulness, and great desire
- till one clear afternoon suddenly we see
the glistening grass, the tenderly rising grain
and know that life is served by rest.
How could I ever have thought of summer
as richer than this season’s mystery?

- N.P. Van Wyk Louw


Van Wyk Louw's poem "Winter" has become a touchstone for me during the dark part of the year, for it reminds me not to measure my days by action and accomplishment only; it reminds me that life is also "served by rest," and that winter is the natural time for retreat, hibernation, and introspection. I seem to need a lot of rest these days -- obstensively because I am healing from an illness, but my spirit is in need of rest and healing too: of time in the dark, in the underworld of the psyche. It is winter. It is not yet time to bloom.

One year ago I was in Arizona closing down the Endicott West Arts Retreat, which was my last and longest home in the desert, and the final home of my American life. The closing of E-West was anticipated, planned for, and accomplished in the best possible way -- and yet I mourned its lost, and I've continued to mourn with each new season of the passing year. In folk wisdom it is said that the sharpest phase of grief must be weathered for a full year and a day, and I find this prescript strangely accurate, as though loss must be carried through all four seasons before its weight begins to lighten and life goes on.

 winter day in the desert

I didn't, however, expect to be quite so rattled that E-West had come to its end. "It's just a life change," I tell myself firmly, exasperated by the strength and persistence of the feeling. "You wanted to move to Devon full-time. For heaven's sake, no one has died."  

But, in fact, someone has died: the person I used to be in Arizona. My desert self. My younger self, who seems so different than the woman I am now, for she was physically stronger and thus quicker, bolder, In Arizona, 1990smore intrepid in adventure than I am today...if also less wise, less tempered, less steady: the gifts of age and experience. That young woman is inside of me, of course, but I am not her; I will never be her again; and packing up my last home in the desert brought me face to face with this "little death."

For many months I have carried the weight of loss like stones in the lining of my pocket -- stones rubbed smooth by handling -- finding comfort in their feel, their rattling sound, their familiarity. But eventually we must empty out our pockets, for life is full of these "little deaths" and if grief is left to accumulate, then the garment of our soul becomes threadbare, misshapen, and our spirit just as heavy as the stones. Death, as myth constantly reminds us, is not an end point but a station one passes through as life turns on the Great Wheel of renewal: each self (representing the stages of our lives) dies so that the next one can be born; death and birth, endlessly repeated. We can't move forward (with our lives, our art) without these endings, these little deaths, these acts of letting go, which create the space for new ideas and fresh momentum.

Saint Francis holding stones

In the mythological calendar, the passage from winter into spring is the perfect time for giving stones back to the earth. The Corn King/Year King/Winter King has died, and will be re-born with the greening of the hills: a virile young consort for the Goddess, his seed ensuring the land's fecundity...until he, too, withers with the dying of the year and emerges again next spring.

This ancient theme of an agricultural king who dies and regenerates each year is reflected in the traditional British folksong of John Barleycorn:

          
There was three men come out of the West

Their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Throwing clods all on his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead.

They've left him in the ground for a very long time
Till the rains from heaven did fall
Then little Sir John's sprung up his head
And so amazed them all
They've left him in the ground till the Midsummer
Till he's grown both pale and wan
Then little Sir John's grown a long, long beard
And so become a man . . .

(Read the full lyrics and hear the song here. )


Mythic scholars have linked John Barleycorn to Beowa (the Anglo-Saxon god of barley, grain, and agricultural), and to Byggvir (the Norse god of barley, grain, and the art of milling),  for similar stories of sacrifical death and resurrection are associated with all three figures.

Persephone by Virginia Lee

Persephone by Virginia Lee

One of the best known stories of death and re-birth is the Greek myth of Persephone, who was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of grain, fertility, and patroness of marriage. (Demeter's name derives from "spelt mother," spelt being an early form of wheat.) When Persephone is abducted to the Underworld by Hades (god of the dead), her mother's grief causes the seasons to stop, love-making to cease, and all living things to fail to grow...until Zeus intervenes and Persephone is returned, but only for six months of each year. The girl has eaten pomegranate seeds in Hell, binding her to Hades in the autumn and winter. Each spring, she returns to her mother, and the greening of the earth begins anew. 

The veneration of Demeter, Persephone, and the cosmic cycle of death and re-birth was at the core of the Eleusinion Mysteries, whose initiatory rites took place each year just as the crops were sown. Beginning in an old cemetery in Athens, the participants walked in procession all the way to Eleusis, stopping at certain places along the route to shout obscenities. (This was in honor of Iambe, an old woman who's earthy stories had made Demeter laugh during her season of sorrow.) In Eleusis, the initiates fasted for a day (as Demeter did during her period of grief), then broke their fast with a special medicinal brew of barley water and mint. Little is known about the final rituals as the participants (sometimes several thousands of them) gathered together in the sect's great hall, for it was strictly forbidden for such sacred things to be spoken of in public.

Demeter Mourning Persephone by  Evelyn De Morgan

Demeter, often pictured wearing a wreath of wheat or corn, has much in common with Selu, the Corn Mother of the Cherokee Nation, also associated with agriculture, fertility, and the sanctity of marriage. When her grandsons break a strict taboo and spy on Selu's mysteries, she tells them she will have to leave them and die -- but that even in death she will look after them, provided they restore the harmony they have broken by performing certain rituals. "Clear a circle of land in front of the house," she says. "Take my body and drag it seven time around the circle. Then you must keep watch all night and see what happens."

The boys follow their grandmother's instructions, and from the places where Selu's blood speckles the ground comes the very first crop of corn, a sacred food which is still an important staple of the People today. In some versions of the story, however, the lazy boys clear only a small piece of land, and drag Selu's body only twice around the circle, which is why corn doesn't grow everywhere and we must work hard to cultivate it.

Selu sculpture by Raymond Moose on the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina

Many carnival celebrations around the world are rooted in older pagan rites honoring the passage from winter to spring:  anarchic, riotous affairs in which laughter and satire are given a social outlet and a sacred context. Alan Weisman described carnaval as it's still practiced in the villages of northern Spain:

"In Laza, the event is known by its Galician name, entroido: introduction, entry. Elsewhere in Spain and Europe where it is still observed, and in Latin America, where it has been transplanted, it is called carnaval. Centuries ago, when Christianity superimposed its holy calendar on the cycles of nature, the formerly pagan celebration became a brief, sanctioned burst of scheduled excess before 40 somber days of Lenten abstinence and repentance. (One theory holds that the word carnaval derives from 'carne va'—'there goes the meat.') Lent concludes with Easter, the celebration of Christ's Resurrection, coinciding handily with the spring equinox -- resurrection of the pagan sun god."

This, notes Alan, is the  one time of year when authority figures are ignored, or mocked, and the people reign. "Power is concentrated in the masks thundering by, borne by the sons of the village itself, lashing the crowd ever harder. Priest and politician alike must hide or be pummeled with insult and ridicule; the world is turned upside-down and shaken until the established order cracks loose. Anything is possible, everything is allowed: Humans transform themselves into animals; males become females; peons strut like kings. Social station is scorned, decorum is debunked, blasphemy goes unblamed. In neighboring villages, normally sober citizens drench each other with buckets of water; in Laza, they sling rags soaked in mud until everyone is reduced to muck. Bags appear containing ashes, flour, and -- most prized of all -- fertilizer crawling with red and black ants. A frenzy erupts; the air fills with stinging, fragrant grime, coating everyone with the earth's sheer essence. Men and women throw each other to the ground and roll in the street. With any luck, the heavens will be shocked and the new season jarred awake. Then, once again, day can steal hours back from the night, vegetation will arouse from hibernation, spring will heave aside winter, and what was dead can live again."

(To read Alan's full article, go here.)

Spanish Carnaval

Photograph by David Bacon

Re-enactment of the mythic cycle of death and re-birth can still be found in many sacred traditions, from the ritual practices of Siberian shamans to the Easter pageants of Christianity. In the Border region of southern Arizona, where Mexican American, Native American and European American cultures all come together, the Easter ceremonies of the Yaqui (Yoeme) tribe contain a fascinating mix of religious traditions (similar to those of the Mayo and other tribes of northern Mexico).

Private spiritual rituals practiced in the months between Christmas and Easter, most intensively during the weeks of Lent, culminate in a public drama enacting an unusual version of Christ's Passion, blending ancient Yaqui mystical  beliefs with 17th-century Spanish Catholicism. The "three Marys" (figures of the Blessed Virgin) are Yaqui Deer Dancerguarded in an open-sided church by hymn-singing women, matachins (a dance society of men and boys), pahkola dancers (a kind of holy clown), and the deer dancer -- an enchanted figure from the old Yaqui "religion of the woods." Opposing them are the forces of Judas: faceless fariseos, dressed in black, and chapayekas wearing elaborate masks, strings of rattles, and painted wooden swords.

These dark figures march and dance around the church for many days and nights...and eventually, on the last day before Easter, they attack. The church bells ring, the deer dancer leaps, the faithful pelt the dark forces with flowers. The watching crowds throw flowers and confetti, shouting "Gloria! Gloria! Gloria!" The dark ones fall back, regroup, march...and then attack once more. Again they're driven back. On the third attack they are overcome by the forces of good: by songs, prayers, armloads of flowers. They strip off weapons, black scarves and masks (subsequently burned on a huge bonfire), and relatives drag the exhausted men back into the safety of the church -- a ritual resurrection, dedicating new lives to the forces of good.

The deer and pahkola dancers have been incorporated into this ritual, yet come from the tribe's pre-Christian past. They are, in one sense, shamanic figures, able to cross over the borders between the human world of the Baptised Ones, the modern Yaqui, to the flower world of the ancestors, a magical people called the Surem.

The Seven Ravens by Lisbeth Zwerger

When we look at traditional folktales, it's striking how many address the subject of loss. A sizeable number of tales begin with the loss of a parent, a sibling, a fortune, a home, or an identity -- and rarely does that which is missing return, intact and unchanged, at the end of the story. Instead, loss is the catalyst that leads to transformation. 

The older versions of fairy tales were unflinching in their portrayal of calamity: kings abruptly beggared, queens dying young, children orphaned, cursed, and disowned. In The Handless Maiden, the heroine's hands are cut off at the wrist by her own father. The subsequent story of her journey through the world, rendered nearly helpless by her loss and yet still possessed of kindness and courage, speaks to everyone who has ever felt the wound of a loved one's betrayal. In The Seven Ravens, retold by the Brothers Grimm, seven princes lose their humanity due to their The Handless Maiden by Jeanie Tomanekfather's carelessness. Salvation comes from their young sister, who bravely suffers a loss of her own: she must cut off her little finger to make the key to unlock their prison. Beauty gives up her home and future to save her father from a beast; Cinderella is transformed by the loss of her mother from a coddled daughter to a kitchen drudge, until the simple loss of a shoe transforms her again and she becomes a princess. Sleeping Beauty loses one hundred years of life; her parents lose a precious daughter as the vines grow high and her bedchamber is shrouded in roses and silence.

These were tales, in their older forms, meant for adult audiences, not the nursery; and in some of them, the depiction of grief and loss is sharp and brutal. This is particularly true of the literary fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, which were beloved by adult readers across Europe in Andersen's lifetime. Here, unlike Disneyfied fairy tales today, we're never assured of a happy ending; here, the Little Mermaid is forgotten by her prince, the Brave Tin Soldier melts in the stove, and the Little Matchgirl dies alone, frozen by the breath of winter.

Though children also experience grief (and sometimes love the saddest of tales), the subject of loss as a literary theme becomes more and more resonant as we age -- as the passing years bring with them the inevitable loss of friends and family members; of homes and jobs; of innocence; of wild lands lost to development and memories lost to the ravages of time; of the many things we cling to, mourn in passing, and learn to live without.

The Little Mermaid by Sulamith Wulfing.

"To live in this world," advised poet Mary Oliver, "you must learn to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go."

Like myth, the great fantasy tales of our day have much to tell us about "loving what is mortal" and then letting it go. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, for example, and Ursula Le Guin's early "Earthsea" books, revolve around the adventures of young heroes -- but loss, change, and the impact of life's "little deaths" are also major themes. (In "Earthsea," the aging of the heroes is beautifully explored as the series progresses.)

Ellen Kushner -- who entered the fantasy field, like me, as a young writer/editor in the 1980s -- has pointed out that our generation of fantasists is now middle-aged or beyond. "Our concerns are different now," she muses. "If we stick to writing fantasy, what are we going to do? Traditionally, there's been the coming-of-age novel, and the quest novel, which is the finding of self. We're past the early stages of that. Does fantasy demand that you stay in your adolescence forever? I don't think so. Tolkien's books are not juvenile. The Lord of the Rings is about losing things you've loved, which is a very middle-aged concern. Frodo's quest is a middle-aged man's quest, to lose something and to give something up, which, as you age, is what you start to realize is going to happen to you. Part of the rest of your life is learning to give things up."

The Scribe by Alan Lee

Learning to give things up.... 

I'm thinking now of my last night at Endicott West, saying goodbye to a place that had held so much of my life and so many of my dreams. I'd wanted to let it go lovingly, gracefully, and I was surprised by just how hard that was. The ghost of my younger self stood beside me, growing thinner, paler, more insubstantial with every moment that passed.

My partners and I lit one last blaze in the campfire circle beneath the stars, and thanked the spirits in the old tribal way: with sage, cedar, and the desert tobacco that I'd grown and cured on that beautiful land. Then we popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and reminisced about the days of building the Retreat, acknowledging all the blessing we'd received there, all the blessing we'd carry on from it. This is what I wanted to take back home to Devon: this good fellowship and these good memories, not the stony weight of loss and grief for a phase of life that had reached its natural end. But of course we don't control these things. Grief comes when it will, and takes the time it takes, and there's no short-cut to moving through it. Grief must be honored. It's the heart's clear measure of the value of what we've loved, and what we've lost.

Endicott West fire circle at dawn.

Mesquite kindling, reading to be lit

"In my own worst seasons," wrote our former E-West neighbor Barbara Kingsolver (in her essay collection High Tide in Tucson), "I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.''

Stones

Well, I've not been in "despair" exactly, I've just been feeling a little bit...off. Blame it on poor health. Blame it on the weather, which is wet and cold, unlike the winters of the desert. Blame it on exhaustion; I've been carrying these stones for a full year and a day, and it's time to put them down.

Here in Devon, it's been a long grey winter...but every now and then the sun breaks through. I put on muddy boots, whistle for the dog, and we squelch our way through hills that glimmer "in the rustling wet" (to quote Van Wyk Louw's poem) like the saturated colors of a watercolor painting.  These colors remind me that grief will pass. Winter will pass. The months, the seasons, the Great Wheel will turn. I have re-learned joy many times before, and I am simply doing it one more time. The land that is now my home lifts and sustains me.

And spring is coming.

Woodland snow.

The first wild daffodil shoots in the woods.Image credits and descriptions are in the picture captions. Run your cursor over the pictures to see them. This essay is dedicated to Ellen & Delia.

Comments

Oh my dear....such feeling and so much information. How I wish ritual were alive in our daily lives (it is in yours and mine)...but in every one's life--acceptable and expected, those things we do to line our passage through time with stones and other mementos....well, I offer (and may have sent on another occasion) this little poem
thing with my love:

REINCARNATION

Days evaporate like rain water. Most sink,
some rise up into the aether. Clouds drift,
changing shape with each random wind.

You trod on shifting ground from here to there.
What's tangible and material today,
becomes a pulsing wave tomorrow.

Everything that ever was, still is.
Nothing that ever existed is lost.

Beautifully said! Thanks for the enlightenment.

Thought provoking and very insightful. I think that image of little pebbles weighting down the pockets will stay with me today.

A perfect post for Pancake Day, particularly with its links to Carnaval and its similar pagan roots. You've given me lots to think about and to share with my husband tonight. Thank you, Terri.

Beautiful, and so timely for me. I am 43 years old and have recently been struggling with my own "little death", and your post has spoken to my heart. Thank you for expressing for me what I did not know how to put into words myself. Bless you.

Thank you for this lovely essay, Terri, and the sharing of your self. For me, it's when a beloved pet dies that I feel a part of me has died also. When my Bootsie died in 1997, I felt then as if my younger self had gone with her. And when my sweet Lindy died in November, that was another self gone. "It's the end of an era," my ex-husband said, and yes, it is. Ah well. Nothing to do but get on with life and loving. One step after another.

Thank you, Michelle. That's beautiful.

Howard and I have just been looking up the history and folklore of Pancake Day, which he grew up with here in England and I didn't in my part of America. I knew it had a connection to Carnival and Lent, but I didn't know this (from Wikipedia):

"Like many other European holidays, the pancake day was originally a pagan holiday. Before the Christian era, the Slavs believed that the change of seasons was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation, fertility and springtime, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness. People believed that they had to help Jarilo fight against winter and bring in the spring. The most important part of Shrovetide week (the whole celebration of the arrival of spring lasted one week) was making and eating pancakes. The hot, round pancakes symbolized the sun. The Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the power, light and warmth of the sun. The first pancake was usually put on a window for the spirits of the ancestors. On the last day of Shrovetide week some pancakes and other food were burnt in a bonfire as a sacrifice to the pagan gods."

The "Dark Dorset" folklore site has some interesting folkloric information:

http://darkdorset.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/pancakes-and-football-customs-and.html


Another beautiful, thought-provoking essay. I have to come back and savor more of the information on rituals. And I love Ellen Kushner's projection of how your generation might shape/ influence Fantasy at this stage in your lives. It's an exciting thought!

Personally what spoke to me in this essay was the talk of little deaths and mourning. I've been feeling that too, not only because winter has been cruel in Maine this year as well but because I'm due with my first baby this spring. And while this is a wonderful thing, I find myself often feeling pensive, mournful. I think I'm mourning the me I won't be once this winter is over. I'll be someone else, someone reborn in the spring alongside the birth of this child. I won't ever be able to go back. And while I know this to be a good thing: an adventure, if you will, it fills me with melancholy too. Especially when the wind howls and the snow hurls itself again the windows in fury.

Thank you for these kind comments, everyone. I wasn't sure whether to post this essay, as it's both very long and very personal, so I truly appreciate the supportive feedback.

Good heavens, it somehow slipped right by me that you have a baby on the way. That's wonderful news, Jennifer!

And yes, I can completely understand why you are mourning the person that you'll cease to be once you become a parent. Even though it was somewhat different for me -- my daughter came to me as a teenager, not an infant -- it was a profound and fundamental change. Not only does it alter your life in all the obvious practical ways, it also alters the person you are inside, more than I'd ever imagined. Becoming a mother has been a blessing and I'm deeply grateful for it -- but there's no major Life Change, no matter how desired, that doesn't also contain an element of loss. You're completely entitled to those feelings of melancholy.

Much love to you and the little one to come.

I'm very sorry for your loss, Dona. Losing a beloved pet is losing family, yet there is little public recognition for this kind of grief.

My old cat Oliver was with me for many years, from scrawny foundling kitten (in the streets of Boston) to battle-scarred old man (in the Arizona desert). He finally died at the grand old age of 20, shortly before I married my husband, which struck me as a remarkable piece of timing. It definitely marked the end of one era and the beginning of another, almost as if he'd planned it that way....

Oh, thank you for the well wishes! I haven't been broadcasting it at all so it would be very easy to miss.

"Becoming a mother has been a blessing and I'm deeply grateful for it -- but there's no major Life Change, no matter how desired, that doesn't also contain an element of loss. You're completely entitled to those feelings of melancholy."

Yes, this exactly. Thanks for always putting things so perfectly into words, Terri.

Lovely, Terri, and the reading of it a good way of procrastinating from what I must now do...

I wish I had a ritual for welcoming the spring, some small gesture that could be repeated when the wind bites too cold and the darkness leans too heavy.
Thank you for this post, it was lovely.

When my Dad died in 2008 we put his house on the market, and with its sale the last 'bricks and mortar' link with my childhood was gone. I was born and brought up in the tiny terraced red-brick building in the industrial heart of Leicester. As I'm sure I've said before, it nestled between a major road at one end of the street and an iron foundry at the other. When I was very young there was even a petrol dump and a railway marshaling yard within yards of the front door. They've gone now, but the road still roars on and the iron foundry still breathes its fumes into the already charged atmosphere.

Then on the day my Dad's last sad effects were taken away by the house clearers I went through the empty rooms laying to rest a good few ghosts. I had a very happy childhood with loving parents and a strong and caring sister, but in the later years there were several sad and (in one case) very untimely endings. What can you do other than accept that such is the cycle of life? The house has gone from my life and I have very mixed feelings about that. But I suppose it's true to say that no house of age is free of memories and histories. All we can do is weave them into the tapestry of our lives and learn to love the patterns and designs.

Thank you for the post Terri. Honest and thought provoking. And congratulations to Jennifer for her baby due, most appropriately, in the Spring. Life does indeed go on!

Midori Snyder and I wrote a middle-passage fantasy novel about two naughty fairies kicked out of fairy who find themselves in the US as the middle-aged and slightly overweight women they are without their faerie glamour. And yup, the cover shows a beautiful tattooed young woman. Yes, she is indeed a character in the book, she's certainly not the MAIN or even pov character. Or the point of the story. Nor are they on the back cover, either.

Laughter on the Road

This poem is for old Iambe,
who gave the mourning mother
laughter on Hell’s graveled road,
gallow’s humor,the passionate obscenity
that lifts us a moment out of sorrow.

I do not begrudge Demeter her small laugh
that necessary purgative, like the push
before childbirth, the deep breath
before stepping onto the mazed floor,
the final coarse rattle before death takes us.

Those are the true Eleusinian Mysteries--
birth, death and the passage between.
There is no mistaking them.
Laugh, breathe, rattle and then we move on.
We move on.

©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Good evening, Terry !
I think everyone is facing the loss of one day . You're leaving , and you lose part of his life , where he was happy. I know this . I, too , have recently left home , where she lived all his childhood .
Now I live here ... I'm trying to let go of the past , but it is sometimes not easy ...
As well as winter does not let you. And it seems that it will be forever. But Spring is sure to come.
The ancient Slavs also have holiday off winter . This Shrovetide (Масленница). Just these days it started. And we celebrate it .
Usually , all week bake pancakes - a symbol of the sun. And at the end of the week burn straw man (the symbol of winter) at the stake.

I love your writing Terri and I have gone back to the Journal of Mythic Arts over and over again to read and reread all of your fabulous essays and poems archived there. This piece is especially poignant and I am trying to find a way to save it so that I can savor its rich truths when I need to be reminded that loss is just another part of life. Instead of letting go of loss, I tend to attack it, pin it down and unleash my fury. I laugh when I am in physical pain (something that others find both confusing and disturbing) and I only cry when I am angry. The sentiments you express in this beautiful essay are ones I need to take to heart for my own health. I have been cold too long.

Well, thank you again Terri, your essay was just what I needed to read in this moment of muy life (though down here in the south we are preparing to receive autumn, but it is all the same. A curious thing is that I always heard the term "little death" spoken of as a way of naming "orgasm", which can be considered a moment of complete fulfillment and of complete loss...

I so resonate with your grief over losing the person that you were in the desert. The desert is such a distinct landscape, any change will be greatly felt, I am sure. My right place was the ocean and wilderness of the wild west coast. I had thought my time there had ended and did not expect to still be mourning the loss fifteen years later. But I am. I am actually hoping to return, though circumstances make that difficult. I am glad you have your beautiful black lab, and such beautiful countryside to wander through as the seasons turn. I like the idea that you have to go through all four seasons, before grief lightly lifts off. May this be so for you.

This post was so very timely for me, thank you for writing and sharing it.

Losing two old friends to death and "putting down" my 18 yr. old cat, Simon, were just three losses of many endings I bore last year. The grief took over the holidays and clouded my art exhibit in the Fall. Determined to start 2015 with a light step I encountered a pair of bluebirds in the garden a week ago. And now your soothing post has fed my soul. It seems to me you write of matters that always are relevent in our lives at the moment we are reading your posts. Your beautiful spirit must always be in tune with touching the hearts of others.
I learned so much about moving on and allowing oneself to heal today.
Bless you Terri.

Comment Accidentally Became A Poem

I like this so much. Sometimes I drink ancient water or go out into recycled air
There is so much revolving, shadows and hunches, so much we can dare
To believe, especially of loves and friends unending, dreams that never die.
Returning at night, reminding us in daylight, something wise, I know not why.

Very touching. I lived like a Gypsy child in many towns, not towns exactly and many
homes. I miss them all. I promised myself to remember tall of them. Their secrets and
where I slept and what happened there. I've lived in eight dwelling places in San
Francisco, and one basement home for 25 years, quite unexpected. I've lived where I am
now for 10 years, which the second most lived in. I have always wondered what it is like
to grow up in one place. I like the cleaning up of a good few ghosts. I wonder if I will
be a ghost in about 30 or more places. I'd have to be a very busy ghost.

I was raised on the wet west coast of Scotland and your desert pictures sing to me of an arid place where the rain in my bones might somehow dry out at last.
Beautiful post with so many facets, thank you for sharing. Grief and loss are where we learn what makes us human...

I still remember the change in me when I knew I was having a baby and when I did, I
felt something difficult to describe. I was different. This little tiny pink black haired
girl would be part of the rest of my life, and what is that like? Within three years I had
a daughter and two sons. The most interesting and lovely part of this, is that I am who
I have always been, only more so.

It is a a cliche to say it is a miracle, and I could call it something else, perhaps as if one
is having second sight into the great mystery. When I held my little grandson I was dizzy with awe. He was a little real person and he was trying to explain something to me, in infant language.

I wish you the great adventure and to repeat, you are still yourself except more so.

I am so grateful to you for sharing this, Terri.

The mirror tells me I'm aging, as do my joints now and then. I've learned to gently mourn the scraps of youth I shed along the way. It seems that as long as I take the time to bow to my past, and to the loved ones who have moved on, or who have changed as they, too, age, then I can awake each morning to the wonder of life, to the excitement of stories forming in my heart, to another day of writing, walking, breathing, sighing, smiling, laughing, loving, communing. Even so, sometimes I don't want to see what is gone, sometimes I feel why me? Now I have this beautiful essay to remind me--oh, that's why. Thank you!

Thanks for your beautiful post Terri, it reminded me of this poem that I first read only the other week. Not sure how it escaped me for so long. But in losing my mother to cancer just recently, saying goodbye to a job I loved, and closing my house and clinic, and saying goodbye to friends as I move across the country to start over, loss is a constant topic these days.


‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like a disaster.

Oh, Terri, you just broke my heart in the best of ways. This is one of the most beautiful essays on the topic of grief I have had the fortune to read. As someone who forayed through many scenes and landscapes, I relate so much to the quiet space you occupy and the letting go of former selves, younger passions, places our names and stories remain.

"On a mountain near my home, the pines bend to embrace. I am their cold sister who breathes back. The light of canopy and ice lingers after the darkness comes. Can I wait out this winter? Can I sing from sleep the words? This is the night of lions. This is the onyx hour of those forgotten, who haunt the fire. I work furiously stitching these selves together."

Hi Phyllis, I did have a very 'geographically static' childhood, but became more of a nomad once I left the family home and went to University. Nothing like your own experience of course; eight homes in one city is impressive. I don't think I could stand the chaos of moving house so many times. I sometimes wonder just how we've managed to gather so much stuff, all of which needs to be packed up and shipped out whenever we do move. I blame Clare, she's a hoarder and is loathe to throw away anything. Personally speaking, apart from a few choice pieces, my books and music I'd jettison the lot! (I suppose I'd have to bring the cats along...I suppose...)

Another beauty, Jane, full of Truth.

Thank you for telling us of your Shrovetide rituals. Here in Devon we have pancakes also, and there's a "Pancake Race" in Exeter, which is our closest city:

http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Pictures-Pancake-racing-championships-Exeter/story-20755657-detail/story.html

My husband has promised me that we'll go see it next year!

Joel, it's lovely to see your name here again -- but I'm so sorry to learn about the loss of your mother. I've lit a candle here on Dartmoor today, for your mother, your family, and all your changes.

Aleah, Candace, Lee, A'vonne, Sarah, Ana, Sherry, Carina, Stuart, Phyllis, Amelia, Marly, Starr, Roberta, Charlotte:

A very heart-felt "thank you" to you all.

Beautiful and moving. Thank you for sharing your journey with the world. And for the light you left in Arizona and the light you find and make in Devon, this little piece from Simon Ortiz's poem "A Gift to Give and Receive":

"Let your hands fall open.
Let light fall upon your palms.
Hold the light in your hands.
You are holding light in the palms
of your hands."

Thank you Terri, that really does mean a lot to me. I've been lurking quietly as a reader of your blog, and often have found it a place of comfort and connection. Reading the tales you have shared about grief, death, winter and loss is wonderful, as it is a reminder that death is a natural part of life that we have been attempting to understand for thousands of years. Some of the most natural things in the world - birth, death (little and big), teenage-hood, cancer, relationships, moving home - are also so difficult. When I was in the New Zealand earthquakes of 2011, which killed so many, I was reminded that whether you were grieving for a house, a friend, a pet, a piece of furniture, a vase, a dish - it was still grief, it was valid, it was real, and needed respect, and space and time.

Say hello to Clare and let her know I'm a lot like here. After all those travels with a box
and one suitcase, I treasure many books, albums, letters, music. Do give away books Ill never read again, but with a little pain.

A poem to look at again when the weight of Now What? comes. Will remember, move on.

Oh yes, indeed. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Joel...just as yours were with me once upon a time, when I truly needed them.

That's lovely, Glenda. I haven't read Simon Ortiz in years, and this is a nice reminder to go look up his beautiful work again. Thank you for that.

I, too, have been thinking about rereading Ortiz, particularly after I rediscovered the following poem--a rediscovery prompted by your beautiful essay on loss. The reasons for sharing it are obvious.

Epic

Mythic roads lead us beyond ourselves.
It doesn’t matter where they lead.
We are there on them heading beyond.
They could be returning or leaving.
We could be leaving of returning.

--Simon J. Ortiz, from Out There Somewhere


All of your work is beautifully written, and this post was no excception! Both Marcia and I have been travelers all of our lives, and that can involve both its own joy in new adventures and its own sorrow in pulling up withered roots that have yet to gain a firm hold in new soil. My record is 11 moves in 3 years; Marcia recalls a time from when she was a girl that her father's boss literally followed the moving truck into the driveway with a 'Guess what, B...?" He went to the new job for six months; the family (that time) was allowed to unload the truck and stay for a bit.

If you haven't read it, I recommend Kim Stafford's book 'Having Everything Right'. It's the title, but it's also an idea, a place where everything is just right, a place to call home for just a little while. Biologist E.O. Wilson coined the phrase 'Biophilia' (love of life/ love of the earth), and it is his suggestion that even as we yearn to stretch to other planets and beyond, we have an innate connection to this little blue marble we call home.

There was a time when Marcia and I planted flower bulbs every time we moved, and eventually we realized that we rarely (if ever) got the opportunity to see them bloom. It was as if the Mother was telling us, "Okay, that's good. Now, over here..."

Hugs,
M&M

P.S. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back and meet our younger selves? Richard Bach covers this in several ways, including his book, "Running From Safety".

I wrote a short story about it, here: http://www.wolfnowl.com/our-stories/mikes-stories/again/

Mike.

Terri, the past year was sometimes a dark one for me. Thank you for being a Disciple of Joy. Your writing and images remind me, again and again, how to carry on. I feel so indebted to you and grateful for posts like this on.

I might have said this before, but I hadn't known any affection for the desert before reading The Wood Wife. I hope to visit the area one day, and when I do, I believe my eyes will see far more than they might have with you.

Best wishes for a bright spring,
Edie

I've just read "Fox body and lambs" on Tom Hiron's blog, which is all about birth, change, and loss. Painful and beautiful reading.

https://coyopa.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/fox-body-and-lambs/

Thank you, Edith. It's been a sometimes-dark year for me too, and finding joy wherever I can find it is what keeps me going. I'm glad I can share these thoughts on Myth & Moor -- and in return I get so much back from the discussions and poems that all of you leave here.

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