Shaped by water
Water, wild and sacred

The magic of the world made visible

A detail from Underworld Beauty by Virginia Lee

From "Learning to See" by Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, from an earlier essay collection, Gathering Moss:

"I remember my first encounter with the North Pacific, at Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula. As a landlocked botanist, I was anticipating my first glimpse of the ocean, craning my neck around every bend in the winding dirt road. We arrived in a dense gray fog that clung to the trees and beaded my hair with moisture. Had the skies been clear we would have seen only what we expected: rocky coast, lush forest, and the broad expanse of the sea. That day, the air was opaque and the backdrop of the coastal hills was visible only when the spires of Sitka Spruce briefly emerged from the clouds. We knew the ocean's presence only by the deep roar of the surf, out beyond the tidepools. Strange, that at the edge of this immensity, the world had become very small, the fog obscuring all but the middle distance. All my pent-up desire to see the panorama of the coast became focussed on the only things that I could see, the beach and the surrounding tidepools.

Mer Village by Virginia Lee

"Wandering in the grayness, we quickly lost sight of each other, my friends disappearing like ghosts in just a few steps. Our muffled voices knit us together, calling out the discovery of a perfect pebble, or the intact shell of a razor clam. I knew from pouring over field guides in anticipation of the trip that we 'should' see starfish in the tidepools, and this would be my first. The only starfish I'd ever seen was a dried one in a zoology class and I was eager to see them at home where they belonged. As I looked among the mussels and limpets, I saw none. The tidepools were encrusted with barnacles and exotic-looking algae, anemones, and chitons enough to satisfy the curiosity of a novince tidepooler. But no starfish.

Merfolk by Virginia Lee

On the south Devon coast

"Disappointed, I straightened up from the pools to relieve the growing stiffness in my back, and suddenly -- I saw one. Bright orange and clinging to a rock right before my eyes. And then it was as if a curtain had been pulled away and I saw them everywhere. Like stars revealing themselves one by one in a darkening summer night. Orange stars in the crevices of a black rock, speckled burgandy stars with outstretched arms, purple stars nestled together like a family huddled against the cold. In a cascade of discovery, the invisible was suddenly made visible.

The Selkie by Virginia Lee

Tilly on the north Devon coast

"A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it. This is a hard concept for a scientist. But he said to watch out of the corner of your eye, open to possibility, and what you seek will be revealed. The revelation of suddenly seeing what I was blind to only moments before is a sublime experience for me. I can revisit those moments and still feel the surge of expansion. The boundaries between my world and the world of another being get pushed back with sudden clarity, an experience both humbling and joyful."

Merwyna by Marja Lee

The magical ocean imagery today is from two Chagford artists who are also mother and daughter: Marja and Virginia Lee. (Each picture is  identified in the hidden captions. Run your cursor over the images to see them.)

Marja Lee is a painter and harpist inspired by Celtic art, music, myth and mysticism. Born in the Netherlands, she studied art in Amsterdam, worked as a fashion illustrator in London, and then settled and raised her family here in Devon. Her delicate watercolor paintings and drawings are rich in esoteric symbolism, and fall into the Visionary tradition of such arists as Odilon Redon, Jessie M. King, and Sulamith Wulfing. The drawing just above and the painting below are by Marja.

Virginia Lee is a painter and sculptor inspired by folklore, Surrealism, and the mythic landscape of Dartmoor, where she was born. She has illustrated several fine books for children and adults, including The Frog Bride, Persephone, and The Secret History of Mermaids. She was a sculptor on the set of the Lord of the Rings films, and has published exquisite decks of "oracle" and "story world" cards. To see more of her work, please visit her website, her lovely blog, and her Etsy shop. The first four paintings and drawings above are by Virginia.

Mermaid by Marja LeeThe passage above is from Gathering Moss, a collection of linked essays on the natural & cultural history of mosses by Native American author & plant biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer (Oregon State University, 2003). The photographs of me and Tilly were taken by my husband. All rights to the text and art in this post is reserved by their creators.


This art and these words make my heart sing. Oh to live by the sea! I'm a Taurean and have the earthy soul of a farmer, but somewhere inside me I'm sure there's a mermaid too. I also loved yesterday's post, and the responding poems.

As an ocean-side dweller in the Canadian Maritimes this week's posts are particularly resonant for me. I love the two pictures of your Devon sea coast - though I had to look at a map to understand why you have a north AND a south coast. Also, I find it moving that the beautiful art is by two generations of women artists. How splendid.

Cynthia's comment and today's post made me think of land-dwellers who love the sea. =)

To the Land-Locked Mermaid

Don’t be afraid to swim through grass,
bathe in dark soil,
comb your hair with pinecones,
rouge your lips with berry.
You can still lounge on fallen logs,
to stare longingly at rocks.
If you feel lonely, sing to the farmer.
Collect feathers for your hair.
If you miss your sisters,
Send them seeds on autumn wind.
If your scales happen to dry out,
(this is likely),
wander in heavy rain.
Let your spirit transform again.
In mud reborn,
in earth, yourself.


Clothed in currents
of light and water, I waver
in your bathroom mirror --
the languid spirit
who wants to float away
to a kingdom of undersea
spires and gardens. Groves
of coral, fish and stone
delight the eye while dolphins
soon become the sleek
but movable gateposts
to a place of marine song
and fathomless peace. Remember
Sister in your silk-gray suit,
you have summoned me.

Hi Edith

Let your spirit transform again.
In mud reborn,
in earth, yourself.

Love those lines and the reverse transformation of the sea to land, of adaptation that still retains remnants of its original form. Just lovely details and language in this piece. It has a magical aura about it!

Much enjoyed!!

Very original; to "let your spirit transform again, in mud reborn, in earth yourself..." Almost every reaction to this is that it is tragic, not transforming. Lovely thought/

This is very visual, the bathroom Mirror, kingdom of undersea spires and gardens, the dolphins, Sister in silk-gray suit....I can see all this and can almost smell the sea...

What The Cheyenne Elder Said

How I strived and worked and studied.
To make things happen, a list of whats
And hows and where'd and whens.

How things never happened as I hope.
Trading theatre glamour and poetic licence,
Three little children, all works of art...

Not the art on paper or speech on stage,
Three people invented by magic to me.
Who went in three different dances...

Each different as salt, pepper an honey.
And my well paid hopes to make with art,
Ah, that was the heart that went elsewhere.

I worked in offices and had friends from
All over the world, all once again -
Different, many like me. who had secrets.

Secret wishes, secret stories , and given
The gifts of stories never ever told,
They are exactly what I wanted. Myth...

With myths so large and ocean wide.
Unexpected , what gifts, what surprises.
I never looked for, and so, I found.

Read Braided Sweetgrass on your recommendation, Terri. Now I'm off to order this one too. A wonderful author. Love the art here too.

Hi Phyllis

Thanks so much for responding to this poem. I am glad the visuals come across. This was written awhile back when a French artist and good friend of mine painted a beautiful water color image of an "Ondine" or "naiad". I was inspired to write a poem about it. And it evolved in the escapist spirit in all of us under pressure and conflict to get away, some place fluid, floating, revitalizing. And the ondine within the high pressured business woman ( as emphasized by the silk gray suit) becomes that whim, that urgent desire to leave everything behind and return to the

Again thank you!

Hi Phyllis

Secret wishes, secret stories , and given
The gifts of stories never ever told,
They are exactly what I wanted. Myth...

With myths so large and ocean wide.
Unexpected , what gifts, what surprises.
I never looked for, and so, I found.

Exactly, how I feel sometimes and retreat to the world of myth, folklore and the simply magic of the natural environment. This beautiful poem captures that feeling beautifully and I can definitely identify with the speaker's perspective and inner journey.

Thank you for sharing this,
much enjoyed!

Thank you, Wendy. It took me a long time to count on synchronicity instead of plans. I ran out of money when I was a senior and never graduated from college until I was thirty with three little children. My 'sensible' choice to become a drama teacher for money (and love too) and write on the side. I felt pretty angry about that until so many surprises came, much more wonderful than my teen-age wishes.

Love this earthy mirror-image of the mermaid, Edith. Reads almost like the seed-planting/genesis of an unknown earth spirit who swims the land.

I love the way you've made even our domestic and mundane lives 'unsafe' from the call of the spirit world, Wendy. They wait for us even in the bathrooms of our everyday!

This is one for all of us Phyllis. There are gifts to be found in what at first seem like thwarted plans and disappointments. Beautiful piece.

What a kindly comment. Beautiful piece? I feel uplifted.

Wow, I love this! A truly unique approach to the mermaid legend. Oh, well done, Edith!

Sister in your silk-gray suit,
you have summoned me."

Perfect. Just perfect.

I complete agree with Wendy here.

And I'm reminded of this quote from Katherine Paterson (author of The Bridge to Terebithia):

"I had no study in those days, not even a desk or file or bookcase to call mine alone....It might have happened sooner [the writing of work worthy of publication] had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who took away my time and space are those who have given me something to say."

(From her marvelous essay collection, Gates of Excellence)

It's a lovely book, Lili. Very different, being focused on moss, but lovely.

Hi Stuart

Thanks so much for this keen and wonderful perception! Yes, they do wait for us and haunt our lives we are both aware and unaware Thanks so much!

My Best

Thanks so much Terri

I am glad that ending works! I appreciate you commenting on this poem very much!

Take care,
My Best

Thank you all so much for your encouragement. I've fallen behind, as I sometimes do, but I'm so delighted to catch up soon.

I love these dophins as "sleek but movable gateposts". Lovely Wendy!

What a delightful piece, Phyllis! I have two children myself, but I love the line "Each different as salt, pepper, and honey". So true!! So glad you are here with us.

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