Dipping from the Cauldron of Story
Coming up this week...

Wild stories

Wild companion

Winged deer tapestry

The Bumblehill studio

While the world of human affairs goes on its noisy, alarming way, I return again and again to the woods and hills behind my studio. To moss. To mud. To the mulch of leaves on the forest floor. To the strength of granite and the swift ways of water. To the hawthorn berries brightening the hedgerows, and blackberries ripening among the thorns. To acorns and apples dropping from the trees as the seasons turn.

Illustration by Helen StrattonI keep leaving my desk, Tilly close at my heels, crossing from the imaginary landscapes of writing or reading to a world I can touch, and smell, and taste: to the old stone wall at the edge of the treeline, and pathways trodden through bracken by ponies and sheep. To the riverside, the commons, the crossroads. To the chilly mornings and the night-times drawing in. To discomfort. To loss. To pain. To joy. To acceptance. To the things that are real.

An occupational hazard for the solitary writer is to live in the realm of the mind alone (or the shadowlands of the Internet), and not in the body, the senses, the wild rhythms of the local groundscape we each inhabit, whether rural or urban. For many of us in the fantasy field, the wild world is the very place that we seek to conjure and enter through stories and paintings -- and so we must not neglect our relationship with the elemental wild around us. In our kind of work, "magic" is not a metaphor for gaining power, control, or authority, but for our numinous connection with natural world, and our nonhuman neighhbors. It is wild work. It is soul work. And we need wild stories right now, more than ever.

Wild words

"I have a sense," writes Kate Bernheimer (author & editor of The Fairy Tale Review) "that a proliferation of magical stories, especially fairy tales, is correlated to a growing human awareness of separation from the wild and natural world. In fairy tales, the human and animal worlds are equal and mutually dependent. The violence, suffering, and beauty are shared. Those drawn to fairy tales, perhaps, wish for a world that 'might live forever.' My work as a preservationist of fairy tales is entwined with all kinds of extinction."

Edmund Dulac illustration

P1370113

"Writing," says Sylvia Linsteadt, "is my way into the heart of the world -- its wildness, its strange magic, its beauty, its terrors, its sadness, its joy. Metaphor (a favorite of mine) is an act of shape-shifting, of remembering that each thing is hitched to the next in the great cyclical transformation of energy, from sun to seed to doe to cougar and back to worm; the line between ourselves and the wild world is thin indeed. Writing (thick with metaphor) is the means through which I can praise the wild mystery of this world, and also explore its unseen realms -- the realms inside the hearts of bears and granite stones and buckeye trees; the lands just the other side of the moon and the fog, the lives of men and women long ago or just around the corner. If I were buckeye tree, then writing would be the buckeyes that fruit at the ends of my limbs come late August. In other words, writing is the thing made in me from all the waters and winds and soils and stories that come through my five senses (or six), and it feels very inevitable, like the buckeyes at the end of summer.

Kay Nielsen illustration

HJ Owen illustration

"Also, I have always been an avid reader," Sylvia continues; "especially as a child I devoured books that told of magical worlds and lands, lady-knights and healers, the everyday peasant life of Old Europe (especially Scotland & Ireland), talking animals, caravans of camel nomads, druids, long adventures on horseback. Such books literally shaped and changed my life. They informed the way I see the world today -- as a place much more mysterious and full of wild magics than we tend to believe, where everything is alive and everything speaks. So I write because writing is even better than reading in the sense that you really get to go to those places in your imagination, and give them to other people. The stories we tell ourselves and each other form the world in which we live."

Edmund Dulac illustration

Our task, as David Abram sees is, "is that of taking up the written word, with all its potency, and patiently, carefully, writing language back into the land. Our craft is that of releasing the budded, earthly intelligence of our words, freeing them to respond to the speech of things themselves -- the the green uttering-forth of leaves from the spring branches. It is the practice of spinning stories that have a rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again, sliding off the digital screen and slipping off the lettered page to inhabit the coastal forests, those desert canyons, those whispering grasslands and valley and swamps."

 "Storytellers ought not to be too tame," Ben Okri agrees. "They ought to be wild creatures who function adequately in society.  They are best in disguise.  If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us the truest joys."

Edmund Dulac illustration

Jay Griffiths adds: "What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary."

Adrienne Segur illustration

Illustration by Adrienne Segur

Wild stories

Words: The passage by Sylvia Linsteadt is from an interview by Asia Sular (Woolgathering & Wildcrafting, Sept. 2014), which I recommend reading in full. Kate Bernheimer's quote is from the Introduction to her anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (Penguin, 2010); Ben Okri's quote is from his essay collection A Way of Being Free (W&N, 1997);  Jay Griffith's quote is from Wild: An Elemental Journey (Penguin, 2007). All three books are recommded. All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: My quiet hillside studio on a rainy day -- with the hound, works-in-progress, old fairy tale books, and bits of the wild slipping in from the woods.

Comments

Moss, Mud, and Mulch

In this September of my life,
when things are dying around me,
and I cling to sky and light,
I pause to recall the dark bits of nature:
moss, mud, mulch and the deep blue-black
of autumn oceans, the peat of Scottish lakes,
the dark green-brown of my daughter's eyes
as she seeks to protect me from what comes next.
I want to load up a bucket of m's,
say to her-this is not frightening.
This feeds the world, grows the plants,
covers our remains, remakes tomorrow.
I want t say: "Make it into story."
That way you will love what you cannot like.
Accept what you would turn away.

©2020 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

Such a beautiful poem, Jane! Breathtaking and breath-giving.

I admit, this post makes me wistful. My family and I are locked indoors because of the terrible wildfire smoke in the Pacific Northwest this week. We've been quarantining for months, of course, but have until now been able to soften that reality with walks through the woods, down the beaches, and up the mountains. There is still beauty and wildness to be found in my children, our sweet pup, and the various natural treasures we've collected and brought into our home (shells, and stones, and pinecones, and feathers) but I admit that I'm looking forward to stepping outside again. This year has taken too much already.

I love the quote from Okri today. I often feel I should be quieter, calmer, and less wild... but then again, maybe not!

Dear Jane,

I agree with Edith, this is a remarkable poem with such depth and insight. I am drawn in by the very first lines and held captive to the end. I love how you look at the significance, almost sacred significance of " moss, mud and mulch" They are the elements of earth that as you say


......feeds the world, grows the plants,
covers our remains, remakes tomorrow.
I want t say: "Make it into story."
That way you will love what you cannot like."

I feel the sense of wisdom in this poem along with its love and reverence for both a beloved daughter and a cherished earth. Thank you so much for gracing my morning with these lovely and profound words.

Please take care
My Best to you and yours!
Wendy

Raconteur

They had to go down deep into the seeds of time, into the dreams of their people, into the unconscious, into the uncharted fears, and bring shapes and moods
back up into the light.
Ben Okri


I come back from stories
told by bone and feather,
stars and lightning,

hand-sewn hides
bleached and beaded,

caw and moan
bellow and whisper
storm water and stillness.

I come back to you
from a tribal place, a cloud
that does not bear rain
but memory. A sea gull
glides within me. He's your heart

cast from a dream
wanting to bring home
this spirit of words,
this maiden tongue

of first things known,
of syllables grown
from seed into song.

Thanks, both Wendy and Edith for your kind words.

An d Wendy, the lines:
I come back to you
from a tribal place, a cloud
that does not bear rain
but memory"
is so stunning I had to type it out so my fingers would remember them.,

Jane

Oh yes, Wendy, that's a lovely poem too! I would pick out the same lines as Jane. Just wonderful.

You've both inspired me to try poetry again. It's been a long time. Thank you.

"If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us the truest joys." - Ben Okri

Stories
By Edith Hope Bishop

They must stay wild
or be lost in what is kept
what is ordered
the cupboards
the hooks and shelves
the neatly arranged and dusted and watched.
The things in sequence and in line.

No, they must stay wild
or be lost in what is canned
what is repeated
the politician’s speech
the reporter’s account
the neatly rehearsed and performed and heard.
The things contained and careful.

If only those who would
package and pack them off
feral children to school
with rules to learn
and lessons to follow
could remember:
The only lesson worth learning
the only rule for any child
is just wind and earth and water
and love for all that’s wild.

Dear Jane

I am deeply touched by your lovely comment toward my poem!! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. I always appreciate your perspective/insight. It really means alot to me. Thank You again so much!

Please take care and Be Well
my best to you and yours

Wendy

Hi Edith,

Thanks so much for reading my work and sharing your thoughts! I am glad you liked the poem and sincerely appreciate your kind words. Also, so good hearing from you as I ,too. live in the west (high desert of Southern California), and am experiencing this season of terrible fires. It's unsettling to say the least and only makes me appreciate the earth so much more. Though our planet is fragile, there is so much story within all its facets and so much wisdom and beauty yet to be discovered despite the natural terror of these flames..

Your own poem is truly beautiful and wise. I love how you approach the aspect of stories and the spirit of true learning. It is not in the orthodoxy or the ordered process of things but in the elemental corners of nature, in the hidden nuances, the cycles that shape both our environmental and human condition. That last stanza sums it up so perfectly -

The only lesson worth learning
the only rule for any child
is just wind and earth and water
and love for all that’s wild.

Yes, indeed it is!

Take care and be safe.
My best
Wendy

Edith, a poem especially for these weary days. Thank you, thank you.

Jane

Just whow...the poetry that is inspired in this post...the comments which are so rich. I can meditate on them right now. I am so happy to read poetry, and refrain from trying to write it! Thanks.

Beauty company the poetry and the comments on them all! I am humbled, grateful, amazed and for the wonder of wild I commend, and certainly don't waste it.
And at the end of this wild day in this wild year I am refreshed with the first shower in three years not scooped from a bowl and I say, "Thanks for it!"

I can certainly relate to the desire to be outdoors among the landscape, whatever it may be. For us that is an older neighborhood in a smaller city, but thankfully that age means many large, mature trees, several parks close by, and a lovely cemetery (still in use) that has many old worn graves and great driving paths that make for a wonderful place to walk, especially in the very early morning hours.

I see more and more a growing movement to be outdoors, with my YouTube subscription feed filled with people taking outdoor adventures and strongly encouraging others to do so also. And I've noticed more and more that friends would prefer to sit around a fire or go walk or ride bikes than get together to watch a movie, and that thrills me.

And when you can read books set in outdoor spaces, be they real, imagined, or somewhere in between, it makes your appreciation for the real outdoors grow and grow.

I keep coming back to this post and this quote by Slyvia Linsteadt

"Writing,, "is my way into the heart of the world -- its wildness, its strange magic, its beauty, its terrors, its sadness"

And for me personally its the wildness with its strange magic, beauty and terror, blessings and warnings that makes its way into my heart and my yearning to write. Here in the high desert of Southern California, we are besieged by raging fires in the distance, seen at night blazing over the mountains. It is a frightening time but yet there are still creatures and elements of this terrain that sustain and enlighten us. A few days ago, the most beautiful, elegant lizard of the (Xantusiidae Vigilis)
species wandered into my house. I believe she was looking for refuge from the drastic heat and some water. She is also called
( besides her Latin name), The Desert Night Lizard. This type of lizard is unusually small with a sleek body, delicate snout and long tail. It only grows to about an inch and a half to two inches. It glides in movement and ranges in color from a light, yellowish tan to even a greenish brown, depending on the time of day and surrounding conditions.

I feel it more than just a small creature but something of a seer and guardian that arrives with a purpose or subtle message. Why she has now come into our house in mid September is still something I am contemplating besides the obvious reasons. She is magical in her own way and she has a wild story to tell as well as being a wild story by her mere presence in this dry and ancient habitat.

Second Coming Of The Lizard

(Xantusiidae Vigilis)

You crawl back in through crevices
in the adobe wall
beautiful and bedraggled
from the heat, the scent of fire.

Your skin absorbs the coolness
of this house and reflects the light. Its shade
a blend of wheat and moss,

the hue of Galadriel's hair
( for whom I have named you)
and the brownish green of the hobbit's
middle earth, But yours is between

the Sonoran sky and ground,
the wood shrubs of the chaparral
and spiked towers of the Yucca.

You know the magic of the smaller world
where the beetle becomes a compass
for rain and a need for persistence,

where the wings of moth or bird
sense the earth's pulse, how far her breath
will burn through hills and forest.

You come into this house
asking for refuge and water --
to bless and warn. Your eyes

carry the foreshadowing
of our next story,

your long tail
the lineage of the desert.


Dear Mokihanna

"And at the end of this wild day in this wild year I am refreshed with the first shower in three years not scooped from a bowl and I say, "Thanks for it!" "

I am so happy for you to receive this gift of showers, this water, the life source, of earth. I deeply appreciate your sense of gratitude and elation. What a beautiful event! I wish, we too in the high desert of Southern California, would receive rain to quench the fires and replenish the land. I will keep praying and hoping. Love your phrase "the first shower in three years not scooped from a bowl". I think you might have a poem starting, there.

Anyway
So glad to hear you have been blessed!
Take care Wendy

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