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March 2018

Myth & Moor update

Tilly and the rowan tree

My apologies for the lack of posts lately. I'm continuing to have health issues, and despite having excellent medical support, it's simply not clear what precisely is going on. Living with long-term health conditions can be like this, I'm afraid (as many of you reading this know from personal experience): both western science and alternative therapies are a huge blessing for us all, but they're not infallible. Sometimes the ups-and-downs of health stubbornly resists exact diagnosis, and the healing process is a great Mystery. I'm still having medical tests of various kinds, so perhaps the Mystery will be solved...or perhaps not and I'll simply find my way back to health without any clear answers, as sometimes happens.

Devon tree childI seem to be doing a bit better this week. I managed to get out of the house for two events (for a big anti-Brexit rally last Saturday, where our friend Sam Campling was speaking; and then for a class last night), so that's progress. But strength and energy vary from day to day; I never quite know what to expect. I'm hoping to be back the studio, and thus to Myth & Moor, after the long Easter weekend. Fingers crossed.

Deep apologies to everyone I owe email to (and there are a lot of you). My mailbox is so backed up right now that it's quite daunting, but I'll make my way through it, I promise.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone. Though the weather is dreary and cold right now (when is spring going to finally arrive?), we're looking forward to a nice few days at Bumblehill. Our daughter is down from London, planning to cook a goodly holiday feast with her dad. (They are both wonderful cooks.) And Tilly is delighted to have her pack all under the same roof again. Me, I'm simply delighted to be out of bed. I want to keep it that way.

Happy Easter/Passover/pagan spring festivities...or whatever else you might be celebrating this weekend.

Easter Bunny with a basket of eggs

An English Brown Hare photographed by Michael Rae

The Devon for Europe march, 2018At the #DevonForEurope march in Exeter, with Sam, Howard, and 2500 of our West Country neighbours, in support of freedom of movement, diversity, inclusion, cross-border alliances, & our children's future. It was my first venture out of the village in several weeks, but for such a good reason -- and with these two lovely men to keep me going.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

On the coast of South Iceland

On a snowy morning here on Dartmoor, my thoughts have turned northward to the beautiful "Island Songs" created by Icelandic musician and composer Ólafur Arnalds. Arnalds travelled for seven weeks to seven locations, creating seven new works in collaboration with a range of other musicians, each performance documented by Icelandic film director Bladvin Zophoníasson.

Island SongsAbove, Week One: Árbakkinn, a collaboration with poet Einar Georg, filmed in Hvammstangi.

"Colorful fishing vessels are often moored in the tiny harbour of Hvammstangi," says Arnalds, "a town that sits in the eastern shore of the Miðfjörður. The name is derived from hvammur, which means 'a green space in a mountain.' The town is home to Einar, a poet and professor of Icelandic language and literature."

Below, Week Two: 1995, a collaboration with organist Dagný Arnalds, filmed in Önundarfjörður.

"The shores of Önundarfjörður are surrounded by picturesque valleys and mountains -- but in winter this can be a harsh and treacherous landscape. In October 1995, a devastating avalanche struck the village of Flateyri, and now, next to the church, sits a memorial stone bearing the names of all the people whose lives were lost. Dagný is a music teacher who lives in this remote place and plays the organ and harmonium in the local churches of Flateyri and Holt."

Above, Week Three: Raddir, a collaboration with conductor Hilmar Örn Agnarsson and composer Georg Kári Hilmarsson in Selvogur.

"A small, wooden stave church, known as The Church of Sailors, sits in a solitary landscape, with views of the ocean from a lonely beach. Hilmar and Georg, father and son, gather here with a chamber choir made up of people from the local area."

Below, Week Six: Particles, a collaboration with vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (Of Monsters & Men), filmed in Garður.

"Nanna is from the tiny, scattered community of Garður on the Reykjanes peninsula. Two lighthouses sit on the wind-battered seafront, and one of them is the setting for Particles."

Below, Week Seven: Doria, filmed in Reykjavik.

"Reykjavík is my home," says Arnalds. "For this final week I wanted to concentrate on the people around me, because ultimately it is people, even more than places, who inspire my music and art. Doria was filmed at Iðnó Concert Hall, where I gathered my closest friends, family and the Island Songs contributors for the project's final recording session."

Seals in Iceland's Vatnsnes peninsula

Myth & Moor update

Illustration by Anne Anderson

Illustration by Anne AndersonDear friends, after so many weeks of dealing with flu (and related health complications), I'm behind on everything -- so I'm taking time off-line in order to catch up on work and correspondence in quiet and gentle fashion.

Thank you so much for following Myth & Moor, and being part of the Mythic Arts community here. I'll be back on Wednesday, March 14th to share music, art, books, myth and more. I wish you good health, good dreams, good stories, quiets days (or noisy ones, if you prefer), with plenty of time for work, and play, and wild creativity. And creativity in the wild. And wildness, full stop.

New note: I'm afraid it's going to take a little longer to get back, as I'm dealing with some medical issues at the moment. My apologies.

Wild words

Illustration by Anne Anderson (1874-1952)

To sleep, perchance to dream

Extreme Poetry at Dartington, 2018

To friends & poetry lovers in the West Country:

You are invited to join two of Britain's finest poets, Alice Oswald and Peter Oswald, along with my dramatist husband, Howard Gayton, for an unusual and extraordinary night of Extreme Poetry.

When: Wednesday, 7 March, at 8 pm
Where: Dartington Hall, Space Studio 3, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EN
Tickets: Here, or phone the number above.

(Tickets will also be available on the night; you don't have to pre-book.)

I'm not sure how widely Dartington has publicized the event, so I'm doing my bit to spread the word. Please pass it on to all who might like to come. It will be deeply mythic and rather special.

To learn more about Alice's work: "Is Alice Oswald our greatest living poet?" (by Charlotte Runcie). Her most recent book, Falling Awake, won the Costa Award for Poetry and the Griffin Prize.

To learn more about Peter's work: "Rhyme and Punishment" (by Lyn Gardner). His play "Mary Stuart" runs until April 14th at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

The Sleep-Cycle at Dartington

This is the first event of series, with the next coming up on April 4th. More info soon.

Extreme Poetry at Dartington, 2018Howard in rehearsal for the first evening of the Sleep-Cycle Series at Dartington, 2018. Full masking & body-painting on the night will be by Angharad Barlow.

Bumblehill in snow

with art by Jeanie Tomanek

Moon of Long Nights by Jeanie Tomanek

All week we'd been hearing about the "Beast from the East," pushing frigid Arctic weather across Europe and covering the British Isles with snow. Storms rolled across Ireland, Scotland, the rest of England...snow fell on Cornwall and the south Devon coast...while here in Chagford, the sun kept shining and the village felt more like Brigadoon than ever, inhabiting a different world with different weather than everyone else.

The hound and I were longing for snow. We hadn't seen snow, not proper snow, for several winters on the trot...just frost, or hail, or flurries that lightly glazed the hills then disappeared...not real snow like the storms of 2013, 2012, 2010, and many years before.

The snowless hound

On Wednesday night, the temperature dropped. On Thursday morning, we woke to snow.

It was just a powdery dusting to begin with, but I dressed in a hurry and grabbed my coat. Tilly burst out the kitchen door, ecstatic; she bound up the hill behind our house, rounded past the studio, leapt over the iced-up stream behind it and pelted into the woods. She loves the snow. And so do I, taking pleasure in Tilly's keen delight, and the eternal, ephemeral magic of weather: the way that between one hour and next the land becomes a winter's fairy tale, a far outpost of the Snow Queen's realm.

Gate in snow

Oak tree in snow

Hound in snow

By afternoon, it was snowing hard. By nightfall, the lanes had drifted over; the village was entirely snowed in. The storm raged as we went to sleep, and I wondered whether it would truly last...or if we'd wake to dreary rain again, the snow melted and gone.

Old Dog's Dream by Jeanie Tomanek

The next morning, Tilly stared out the bedroom window. Snow! Snow! Proper snow!

Snow window

Too excited to wait for me to eat my breakfast, she bounced out the back door to the courtyard, where potted plants were buried in white and our "Lady of Bumblehill" statue (by Wendy Froud) had skirts of ice. The hound ran in circles while I finished my coffee, laced on sturdy winter boots, dug out my warmest mittens, and then followed my dog outside.

Courtyard in snow

The Lady of Bumblehill in Snow

This time, we headed down the hill, slipping and sliding down a steep and icy road until we reach the path to Meldon Commons, blanketed by snow and silence.

Snow path

The snow fell thick and steadily. No cars moved through the village today, and the loudest sound was the laughter of children sledging on a hill nearby.

Path III by Jeanie Tomanek

Snow path

Tilly led the way, breaking through the snow's thin crust, forging the path I followed. We were not the first to use this trail; there were other foot prints, paw prints, pony prints...

Snow path

...but we met no one along the way and when we reached the Commons, it was empty too. Just a vast white field, a vast white sky. A snow-speckled dog. And me.

The commons in the snow

"I am a book of snow," wrote Pablo Neruda, "a spacious hand, an open meadow, a circle that waits, I belong to the earth and its winter."

Snow path

The hound and I, we belong to earth and the winter too, I thought as we crossed through bramble thorns and gorse, ice crackling with our steps.

Hound in snow

But my toes were cold, Tilly's nose crusted with ice. Back home, a fire in the Rayburn stove poured heat, like love, from the kitchen hearth. (In the long winter months it feels like warmth and love are the same thing.) I belonged to earth, but I was made of blood and bones, and I was shivering....

Snow path

So I turned around, and whistled once. The hound came running at my call.

Stray by Jeanie Tomanek

Our homeward path lay entirely uphill: steep, icy, and treacherous. I was tired now, still fragile after weeks of flu, a little unsteady on my feet. I tightened my scarf, brushed ice from Tilly's fur, and told her: Yes, you can lead the way. 

She walked ahead, pacing her steps, stopping every so often to check on me.

We'll be home soon. I can feel the warmth of the stove already....

Lead on. Lead on.

Hound in snow

Caretaker by Jeanie Tomanek

The art today, of course, is by the extraordinary Jeanie Tomanek. Go here to see more.