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July 2020

Myth & Moor update

Sleeping Beauty by Honor Appleton

I must apologize once again for the lack of Myth & Moor posts last week. Howard and I are still getting hit by waves of post-viral illness and fatigue from the virus he brought home from Spain back in February. We still don't know if it was Covid-19, or another virus with similar persistence; we couldn't get tested back when we first had it, and the antibody tests we took recently were inconclusive. All we can do now is take it slow: work when we can, rest when we must, take care of each other and try not to worry.

The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Helen StrattonSince energy is in limited supply, we are rationing it carefully. Last week, Howard took care of family matters and household chores so I could focus on delivering the keynote speech for the Francelia Butler Children's Literature Conference at Hollins University in Virginia (via Zoom), followed by a week of visiting online classes for Hollins' Children's Literature and Book Illustration MA program -- which was a lovely experience. The speech will be on YouTube at some point, and I'll let you know when it's up. 

This week, it's my turn to support Howard so that he can focus on upcoming theatre work: a single-day around-the-world tour of his online theatre show, Theatre is Dead!; and preparations for a five-week run of Punch & Judy at the Teignmouth and Exmouth seasides starting next week. We're happy and relieved that P & J is going ahead, since so much other theatre work has been lost due to the pandemic -- but he has a lot of organizing to do to make sure the puppetry pitches are socially-distanced and safe.  

I'm planning to be back on Myth & Moor more regularly this week ... but post-viral recovery is unpredictable, even without an underlying health condition, so if I suddenly disappear again, well, you'll know why. I'm grateful to all of you who have been supporting Myth & Moor through all of these ups and downs ... and I'm just plain overwhelmed by the support for our first Bumblehill Press publication, The Color of Angels. It's enormously encouraging. Lunar and I are working on getting more publications up for you very soon. It seems to me that myth, art, and story are more important now than ever.

I very much hope that you are all doing well during these uncertain times. Thank you for being part of the Mythic Arts community. And please stay safe.

Nurse Tilly on the job.

The art above is by Honor Appleton (1879-1951) and Helen Stratton (1867-1961).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Dawn chorus

At a time when the daily news is so discordant, I find myself turning to voices in harmony to remind me that's there is also so much good in people, joining together to make the kind of beauty that no one voice can make alone. The videos today come from the long-running Tiny Desk Concert series, recorded in the office of National Public Radio in Washington DC (prior to the pandemic).

Above: Three songs by the American bluegrass & roots trio I'm With Her (Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O'Donovan). The songs are "See You Around," "Game to Lose" and "Overland."

Below: Three songs by the American folk quartet Darlingside (Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft). The songs are "The God of Loss," "The Best of the Best of Times," and "Extralife."

Below: Four songs by the Soweto Gospel Choir (formed by David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer), who sing in a mix of South African languages and English. The songs are "Seteng Sediba," "Emarabeni," "Emlanjeni/Yelele" and "Kae le Kae."

"Our songs travel the earth. We sing to one another. Not a single note is ever lost and no song is original. They all come from the same place and go back to a time when only the stones howled."  - Louise Erdrich (The Master Butchers Singing Club)

Bird song


Happy Birthday, Tilly!

Birthday Girl

Our beloved girl is eleven years old today. We'd planned to celebrate with a good walk on the moor, but stormy weather and poor health has postponed that plan and it's an indoor day of treats and cuddles instead. Last year I told the story of how Tilly came to us, and I remain eternally grateful that she did. What a privilege it is to share our lives with this sweet, funny, smart, and loving creature.

The Muse of Bumblehill

Photographs: Eleven years of Tilly's life in Chagford with Howard, me, Victoria, and Jenny (my mother-in-law). 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Wild geese in flight

On a quiet summer morning in Devon, as birdsong fills the woodland behind my studio, here is music in appreciation of our winged neighbours everywhere....

Above:  "The Lark Ascending" by English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958), performed by violinist Hilary Hahn with Camerata Salzburg at the George Enescu Festival, 2013. Williams' composition was inspired by George Meredith's poem of the same name.

Below: "The Wild Dove, Opus 110," by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), performed by the Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen in Belgium in 2012. (The video will direct you over to YouTube to hear this one.)

Above: "The Blackbird," a short piece for flute and piano by French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), performed by Kenneth Smith on flute and Matthew Schellhorn on piano. Messiaen was a passionate ornithologist as well as a musician, and spent a great deal of time in the wild studying birdsong.

Below: "Cantus Arcticus, Op.61" by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016), performed by the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. In this piece, the conventional instrumental soloist is replace with taped birdsong from Arctic Finland.

Above: "Bird Concerto with Pianosong" by British composer Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012), performed by Ensemble X, at Cornell University in upstate New York, 2018.

Below: "songbirdsongs, movement 5, morning dove" by American composer John Luther Adams, performed by Sandbox Percussion on marimba, with Jessica Sindell, Martha Aarons, Zack Patten, and John Luther Adams on ocarinas, at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana, 2018.

And one more to end with, above: "The Gannets" by Scottish composers Inge Thomson and Jenny Sturgeon, from their gorgeous album, Northern Flyway (2014), exploring the ecology, folklore, symbolism and mythology of birds in the northern isles of Scotland.

Gannets over the Shetlands


The Writer's God is Mercury

Skye 1

Skye 2

The following words come from an interview with Jay Griffiths conducted by Sharon Blackie (back when Sharon was living in the Outer Hebrides, and starting EarthLines magazine). Today, as the global pandemic drags on, and the threat of climate catastrophe grows exponentially, Griffiths and Blackie are writers whose work sustains me, giving me courage to keep on going.

SB: "How can you bear to see what is happening to the wild places of the earth that you see so clearly and love so much? The places, the ways of life that you write about with such passion in Wild, and that are threatened -- do you feel powerless because of the nature of the threats; does it instead force you to action (and if so, what's the source of the energy needed in that action -- anger? Desperation? Love?) Put simply, how do you live with it?"

Skye 3

JG: "It is an injured, limping world, yes. Its vitality is reduced, yes, as if the full spectrum of the rainbow is being painted out with grey. The extinctions of this era -- extinctions of culture and of species, extinctions of minds and philosophies and languages -- will haunt the future in bleached and muted reproach, yes. And yet, and yet, and yet -- I want to paint the rainbow, as far as I can, prismatically, through language. You cannot ultimately break a rainbow, you can only fail to see its myriad, shattered beauties. And I believe in beauty as I believe in goodness, that people are profoundly good in spite of it all, and that when people know about a situation they can care about it.

"That is where the role of the writer comes in. The writer's god is Mercury the messenger, speaking between worlds. We listen to the world we can hear and see, and we speak to the other side, to the world of the reader."

Skye 4

Trotternish Peninsula

SB: "What do you make of the new growing interest in writing about nature, place, and the environment? Do you see it as part of a process of change, a good thing, a vehicle for transformation -- or does it just refect a passive nostalgia for the things people have already given up on?"

Skye 5

JG: "When the tread is thinnest...when we sense the tragedy of endings...when life and grace is threatened by deafness and ugliness...when tenderness is bullied...when fences of enclosure overshadow the last scrap of commons...then, which is now, comes a ferocity on the side of life, to protect, to cherish and to envoice what cannot speak in human language."

It is my belief that this is a task that belongs to writers and other creators in the fantasy and mythic arts field as well.

Skye 6

Words: The passages above come from EarthLines: Nature, Place, and the Environment (Issue 1, May 2012); all rights reserved by Sharon Blackie and Jay Griffiths. The poem in the picture captions is from American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (The Library of America, 1993). Pictures: The Isle of Skye, 2017.