Happy birthday, Tilly!

Meadow 1

Ten years ago we made a decision to bring a dog into our family. Our daughter had suffered a string of losses and we hoped that the companionship of a bouncy young dog might aid in her recovery; and my husband had always been mad about dogs and pined for one of his own. I was the hold-out in the family. It wasn't that I disliked dogs, but I didn't really know much about them. I'd lived with a cat for twenty years -- a big striped tom-cat, feisty and independent -- and dogs by comparison, well, seemed like an awful lot of work.

Tilly sketch by David WyattWe dithered about it for a couple of months until an exasperated young friend declared: "Get a dog, or don't get a dog, but don't just keep talking about it!" Learning that a farmer in the north of Devon had a litter of pups ready to leave their mama, we jumped in the car "just to take a look" ... and came back home with a tiny black bundle snoozing calmly on our daughter's lap.

Tilly is often mistaken for a small Labrador Retriever, but she's actually a cross known as a Springador: her mother was a liver-and-white Springer Spaniel, and her father was (supposedly) a yellow Lab from a nearby farm. (There was also a big black mutt slinking around, looking mighty pleased with himself.) The entire litter of eight was black but for one male pup with a blaze of white. Tilly looked identical to the others. There was nothing special to distinguish her, and anyway, Howard wanted a boy ... but this tiny scrap of being had her own ideas. We didn't choose our dog, our dog chose us -- quietly, clearly, and with great determination. It was less than an hour's drive back to Dartmoor, but by the time she entered the house in Howard's arms she'd already turned me from a Dog Agnostic to a passionate member of the Dog-loving Tribe.

Tilly at 8 weeks old

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When Tilly was young, the two of us liked to start our mornings in the garden watching birds: me sitting in a low deck chair, my morning coffee close to hand, with the pup tucked into the folds of my skirt where it stretched between my knees.

Tilly as a pup

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Ten years later, we still often start the day outdoors -- in a field, or the woods, or up on the hill.  If the weather is good, I pick a spot to read or write while Tilly sits close by: watching the birds, sniffing the breeze, following the movements of sheep and wild ponies through the fields below.

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I can't gather her up in my skirts anymore -- but I love the big, warm bulk of her, and her greying muzzle, and the jowls below her chin. We've both grown older and slower through the years, but the signs of age that discomfort me in myself seem entirely lovely on her.

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"We love dogs," writes Erica Jong, "because they show us how to live with with utmost simplicity: Rejoice and kick up your heels after a good shit. Love the one who feeds you. Curl up with the one who strokes your belly. Cherish a good master and lick him into enduring servitude. Celebrate life. Praise God. Find your way home no matter how long it takes. Watch out for the coyotes in the woods. Sniff every corner of the room before you decide to stay there. Turn around three times and create a magic circle before you settle down to dreaming. Decide to trust someone totally before you die.

''Birthday Jig for Howard'' by David Wyatt"These are some of the things I've leaned from the dogs in my life. Cats teach us other lessons -- lessons about keeping your own counsel, cherishing your independence, and giving love without surrendering one's self. Dogs seem more slobbery and slavish. But it is we who become their slaves. As a species, humans are slow to trust. Perhaps that's because we have disregarded our noses for so many millenia. The nose is the only organ that tells it true. By living with dogs, we reclaim the feral in ourselves. We may seek to civilize them, but in truth they help us reclaim the wildness in ourselves. They remind us that in the ancient days we have had much wisdom that we have since sadly abandoned: the wisdom of touch, the wisdom of smell, the wisdom of the senses."

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"It's not that I was unhappy in what I now think of as 'the dogless years,' " Ann Patchett recalls about the days before her Rose entered her life, "but I suspected things could be better. What I could Sketchs of Tilly by Kathleen Jenningsnever have imagined was how much better they would be. I had entered into my first relationship of mutual, unconditional love....

"I watch the other dog owners in the park, married people and single people and people with children. The relationship each one has with his or her dog is very personal and distinct. But what I see again and again is that people are proud of their pets, proud of the way they run, proud of how they nose around with the other dogs, proud that they are brave enough to go into the water or smart enough to stay out of it. People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends. The dogs do not disappoint them, or if they do, the owners manage to forget about it quickly. I want to learn to love like this, the way we love our dogs, with pride and enthusiasm and complete amnesia for faults. In short, to love others the way our dogs love us."

Amen.

Meadow 6

Meadow 8

Words: The passages quoted above are from "A Woman's Best Friend" by Erica Jong and "This Dog's Life" by Ann Patchett, published in Dog is My Co-Pilate (Tree Rivers Press, 2003). The poem in the picture captions is from Poetry magazine (August issue, 1999). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: The first drawing of Tilly as a young pup is from preliminary sketches for In the Word Wood by David Wyatt. The second Tilly sketch, also by David, is called "The Birthday Jig." The little colour drawings of Tilly are from Kathleen Jenning's sketchbook. Photographs: Tilly at eight weeks old, ten weeks old, and ten years old.


Running with writers

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis

In his essay "Childhood of a Writer," E.L. Doctorow describes how his passion for fiction ignited when he was eight years old:

"Back home [from an appendix operation], and more or less on my feet again, I took out of the library the two great dog novels of Jack London, published together for my convenience in one sturdy binding, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, the one about a civilized dog who is kidnapped and enslaved as a sled-husky in the Yukon and, under the brutal pressures of human masters, finds freedom and self-realization in reverting to the primeval wolf ways of his remote ancestry, the other about a savage wolf who, under the ministrations of a decent human being, becomes a civilized human-friendly dog. On such tales as these he became the most popular writer in America, and he is still widely read around the world, though he sits at literature's table below the salt while the more sophisticated voices of modernist and postmodernist irony conduct the conversation.

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis

"The tests and trials to which Buck, the dog in The Call of the Wild, is subjected, and the way he meets them and learns and grows in moral stature, make Buck a round character, while the human beings in the book are, in their constant one-note villainy, flat. This is irony too, a fine irony. Furthermore, this little speed-readers' novel, written at the level of a good pulp serial, is in fact a parody of the novel of sentimental education, not only because the hero is a dog, but because his education decivilizes him, turns him back into the wild creature of his primordial ancestry. I appreciate that now, but then I only knew that Jack London was different from the picture-book writer Aesop, he was not tiresome as Aesop was, he took animals seriously, granting them complex character as the veterinarily incorrect Aesop never did. The moral of the Jack London book was not something you knew already without having to be instructed. But it was there and it was resonant with my own life.

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis"Every day, it seemed, old men knocked on the front door to ask my mother for money to help bring Jews out of Europe. Playing with my friends in the park, I had to watch out for older boys who swept up from the East Bronx to take at knifepoint our spaldines and whatever pocket change we were carrying. My father, the proud owner of a music shop in the old Hippodrome theater at Sixth Avenue and Forty-Third Street, a man who knew the classical repertoire inside and out and stocked music that nobody else had, a man whom the great artists of the day consulted for their record purchases, lost his store in the 'little' Depression of 1940. My ancient grandmother, growing more and more insane each day, now ran away to wander the streets until the police found her and brought her home. We were broke, what the newspapers called war clouds were growing darker and more ominous, my brother was of freshly minted draft age, and The Call of the Wild, this mordant parable of the thinness of civilization, the savagery bursting through as the season changed in the Bronx and a winter of deep heavy snows, like the snows of the Yukon, fell upon us, the whole city muffled and still, made me long to be in the wild, loping at the head of my pack, ready to leap up and plunge my incisors into the throats of all who would harm me or my family.

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis

"At one point I must have realized the primordial power belonged not to the dog, or not in fact to the dog, because around this time -- I was perhaps nine years old -- I decided I was a writer. It was a clear conviction, not even requiring a sacred vow; I assumed the identity with grace, as one slips on a jacket or sweater that fits perfectly.

"It was such a natural assumption of my mind that for several years I felt no obligation to actually write anything. My convalesence had left me flabby, out of shape, with less energy for running around. I was more disposed than ever to read or listen to radio stories, and I was now reading not only to find out what happened next but with that additional line of inquiry of the child writer who is yet to write: How is this done? It is a kind of imprinting.

"We live in the book as we read it, yes, but we run with the author as well -- this wild begetter of voices, this voice of voices, this noble creature of the wild whose linguistic lope over any sort of terrain brings it into being."

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis

Photographs by Paul Croes

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis

The extraordinary imagery today is by Belgian photographer Paul Croes and his studio assistant Inge Nelis. Please visit their Behind Eyes Studio website to see more.

Photography by Paul Croes & Inge Nelis


The secret luminous place

Dog by Adrian Arleo

I've only time for a short post today, so I'd like to pass on these words by George Saunders (author of Lincoln in the Bardo, etc.):

"There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. Be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf -- seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life. 

"Do all the other things, the ambitious things -- travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) -- but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality -- your soul, if you will -- is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly."  

Amen.

Hand-dog Pull Toy & Blue Dog by Adrian Arleo

Dog With Hands by Adrian Areleo

The art above is by American sculptor Adrian Arleo.


Hound foolery

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Howard has gone off to London for a month, where he's teaching Commedia dell'Arte at the East 15 Acting School. We had the usual flurry of getting him packed and on the road, with one suitcase full of masks and another full of books. Afterwards, as I was tidying up, I found a pile of discarded costumes on a chair, including a couple of Jester caps. Then I had a wicked thought and whistled for Tilly....

It's a good thing she's such a good sport.

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''You may make a great fool of yourself with a dog and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a great fool of himself too."  - Samuel Butler

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For a fascinating piece on the mythic roots of comedy, clowning, and Commedia, I recommend "A Chorus of Clowns and Masked Comic Theater" by my friend Midori Snyder.

"Humor is an old response to fear of the unknown and contempt for the familiar," she writes. "For 3,000 years, somewhere a chorus of clowns has misbehaved, and in their audacity, called down gods, heroes, and legends for a face to face meeting with humanity, offering laughter as a form of reverence."

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"You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm."  - Colette

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Disclaimer: no hounds were harmed in this portrait session. She was paid Equity rates in dog treats for her work.


An ode to slowness

Between the Fox and the Owl by Donna Howell-Sickles

Fridays are my day for re-visiting posts from the Myth & Moor archves, often ones that touch on themes we've been discussing during the week. This post first appeared in the autumn of 2012, presented today with new art. 

From "Ode to Slowness" by Terry Tempest Williams:

"I want my life to be a celebration of slowness.

"Walking through the sage from our front door, I am gradually drawn into the well-worn paths of deer. They lead me to Round Mountain and the bloodred side canyons below Castle Rock. Sometimes I see them, but often I don't. Deer are quiet creatures, who, when left to their own nature, move slowly. Their large black eyes absorb all shadows, especially the flash of predators. And their ears catch each word spoken. But today they walk ahead with their halting prance, one leg raised, then another, and allow me to follow them. I am learning how to not provoke fear and flight among deer. We move into a pink, sandy wash, their black-tipped tails like eagle feathers. I lose sight of them as they disappear around the bend.

Three Does and a Kid by Donna Howell-Sickles

"On the top of the ridge I can see for miles... Inside this erosional landscape where all colors eventually bleed into the river, it is hard to desire anything but time and space.

"Time and space. In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breath, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. Time and space. This partnership is holy. In these redrock canyons, time creates space--an arch, an eye, this blue eye of sky. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness.

"Hand on stone -- patience.

"Hand on water -- music.

"Hand raised to the wind --  Is this the birthplace of inspiration?"

Desert Mule-eared Deer

Yes, I believe it is.

I firmly believe that inspiration is born in the land, born of the land, and borne to us on the sacred winds: in the Utah desert where Williams lives, here on my beloved Dartmoor, in the green spaces of London and Manhattan, and wherever you are too. We all need the land and we all need the wild, in all of its various manifestations -- for creative work, and for the art we make everyday of the lives we live.

That's not to say there aren't other forms of inspiration, or artists who make good use of them. But right now, for me, on this beautiful and ailing planet, this is one of the forms of inspiration we need the most, and that matters the most. I think about this constantly as I work with the tools of myth and fantasy. How can I use them in service to the land? How do I let the land speak through me?

I start by living a little more slowly, a little more attentively -- for my art cannot speak for wild lands or wild neighbors if I'm not listening to what they have to say.

In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit extolls the value of moving through the world more slowly:

"Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination," she writes, "a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use...time spent there is not work time, yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space -- for wilderness and public space -- must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space."

Indeed.

And Then There Were Three by Donna Howell-Sickles

The art today is by Donna Howell-Sickles, who was born and raised on a 900-acre farm in Texas.Watching the Big Bear by Donna Howell-Sickles

While studying for a BFA at Texas Tech University, she came across a postcard of a cowgirl from the 1930s and became fascinated with the history, iconography, and mythology of cowgirls throughout the American West. Her distinctive art is now shown in galleries and museums across the United States and Europe.

Although she's best known for vibrant pictures of cowgirls and their horses, I'm especially drawn to her imagery of additional animals and birds: dogs, deer, bear, crows, owls, and the like. The artist is conscious of their mythological connotations, and often employs such imagery to tell symbolic stories about the inner journeys of the women in her work.

Please visit her website if you'd like to see more; or look for her book: Cowgirl Rising: The Art of Donna Howell-Sickles (from Greenwich Workshop Press, 1997).

It is Written in the Stars by Donna Howell-Sickles

Deer by Donna Howell-SicklesThe passage by Terry Tempest Williams is from an essay in Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert (Pantheon, 2001). The passage by Rebecca Solnit is from Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Viking, 1997). Both books are highly recommended. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.


The Dog Child's Tale

The Dog Child by Terri Windling

Dear Readers,

Thank you for your patience while I've been recovering from a yet another round of illness. I'm finally getting back on my feet ... a little slowly, a little shakily, yes, but I'm determined to be well again, and I'm a very stubborn woman. As a new month commences, and a new year begins (for me, anyway, because today's my birthday), it's time to get back to the studio, back to writing, back to art, and back to Myth & Moor.  

I know some people cringe at the thought of getting another year older, but I'm not one of them. Having once been told by doctors that I'd be lucky to make it to the age of 20, reaching middle age and moving towards old age is a daily thing of wonder. I've written down my thoughts on mid-fifties birthdays before (they're here if you want to read them), so today I offer this instead:

In some indigenous cultures it's traditional to give gifts, not receive them, on the day of one's birth...as an act of gratitude to the spirits and the ancestors, as well as to family and community, for the miraculous gift of life and all that makes our lives worthwhile. So the "Dog Child" above is my gift to all of you. Please feel free to download the drawing and print it out if you wish. Her story begins Once Upon a Time....

I leave it to each of you to decide where the tale might go from here.

The other Dog Child


Boredom in the studio...

The new bone

Not my boredom; I've got too much to do to be bored. But Tilly is on antibiotics for a persistent infection and can't go out into the woods today. She's been listless and miserable all morning...until a new bone made life worth living again. Now everything is wonderful, misery forgotten.

I want to be a dog in my next life.


In the Word Wood

In the Word Wood by David Wyatt

Sketch for In the Word Wood by David WyattAfter two long, hard weeks of recovery, Tilly is bouncing (literally) back from her operation, and the vets have given their blessing for her to start taking walks again. We had a fine, clear day yesterday, so I packed up my work and took it into the woods, rewarding our brave, patient hound with a long afternoon among the trees.  While I nested down among oak roots and moss with notebooks and reference texts scattered around me, Tilly rambled nearby, tail held high in delight; then she flopped by my side: listening, watching, nose twitching with every scent drifting past on the wind.

Though many of you already know the painting above, I'm re-posting it today in honor of Tilly's return to the woods. For those who don't know it: "In the Word Wood" is by our good friend and neighbor David Wyatt, created as part of his beautiful and very magical Local Characters series, back when Tilly was still a half-grown pup. The equally lovely drawing on the right is his preliminary sketch for the painting. To see more of David's work, please visit his website, illustration blog, and Etsy shop.

Word Wood 2

Yesterday our wood was a Word Wood indeed as I chased words and sentences through the long grass; but for Tilly, who's been pining to prowl those green pathways again, it was pure Paradise.

Word Wood 3

''It is really hard to be lonely very long in a world of words," wrote the Palestinian-American poet  Naomi Shihab Nye. "Even if you don't have friends somewhere, you still have language, and it will find you and wrap its little syllables around you and suddenly there will be a story to live in.''

This is our story. Once upon a time, on a late summer's day in the Word Wood.

Word Wood 4

Word Wood 5

Words in the wood

Words in the woodsFor those who worry about such things: No books were harmed for the pictures above. These are pages from damaged fairy tale books that I collect for use in making collages.


Tilly update

In the studio

Tilly had a disturbed night again last night, and thus so did I, so we're both feeling rather tired and fragile on this beautiful August morning. But she's able to come up to the studio with me now, sitting quietly beside me as I work -- or at least try to. (*yawn*)

She's got one more week of recovery to go, then she'll be back in her beloved woods again. As for me, I don't really know how much longer recuperation will take this time...it's frustratingly slow,  but every day is a little bit better. In the meantime, this is our view out the window from the studio couch, so the healing power of nature surrounds us, even indoors:

Studio

Studio garden