Sky, stone, and the turning seasons

Dartmoor cows grazing near Bronze Age ruins, midsummer.

From A Branch from the Lightening Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wilderness
by Martin Shaw:

"To be in touch with wilderness is to have stepped past the proud cattle of the field and wandered far from the twinkles of the Inn's fire. To have sensed something sublime in the life/death/life movement of the seasons, to know that  contained in you is the knowledge to pull the sword from the stone and to live well in fierce woods in deep winter.

Pathway onto the moor in deep winter

"Wilderness is a form of sophistication, because it carries within it true knowledge of our place in the world. It doesn't exclude civilization but prowls through it, knowing when to attend to the needs of the committee and when to drink from a moonlit lake. It will wear a suit and tie when it has to, but refuses to trim its talons or whiskers. Its sensing nature is not afraid of emotion: the old stories are are full of grief forests and triumphant returns, banquets and bridges of thorns. Myth tells us that the full gamut of feeling is to be experienced.

Near Scorhill Stone Circle as the rain rolls in.

"Wilderness is the capacity to go into joy, sorrow, and anger fully and stay there for as long as needed, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Sometimes, as Lorca says, it means 'get down on all fours for twenty centuries and eat the grasses of the cemetaries.' Wilderness carries sobriety as well as exuberance, and has allowed loss to mark its face."

Scorhill on a stormy day.


The speech of trees

Tree 3 6x8

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

"To our indigenous ancestors, and to the many aboriginal peoples who still hold fast to their oral traditions, language is less a human possession than it is a property of the animate earth itself, an expressive, telluric power in which we, along with the coyotes and the crickets, all participate. Each creature enacts this expressive magic in its own manner, the honeybee with its waggle dance no less than a bellicose, harrumphing sea lion.

"Nor is this power restricted solely to animals. The whispered hush of the uncut grasses at dawn, the plaintive moan of trunks rubbing against one another in the deep woods, or the laughter of birch leaves as the wind gusts through their branches all bear a thicket of many-layered meanings for those who listen carefully. In the Pacific Northwest I met a man who had schooled himself in the speech of needled evergreens; on a breezy day you could drive him, blindfolded, to any patch of coastal forest and place him, still blind, beneath a particular tree -- after a few moments he would tell you, by listening, just what species of pine or spruce or fir stood above him (whether he stood beneath a Douglas fir or a grand fir, a Sitka spruce or a western red cedar). His ears were attuned, he said, to the different dialects of the trees.

Tree 5 6x8

Also, Katherine Langrish is re-running the Fairy-tale Reflections series over on her wonderful Seven Miles of Steel Thistles blog, and my essay "On Fairytales" has been posted for it's second go-around today. (Thanks so much, Kath!)


The songful dimension of language

Nattadon morning, 1

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

"Human language, for us moderns, has swung in on itself, turning its back on the beings around us. Language is a human property, suitable only for communication with other persons. We talk to people; we do not speak to the ground underfoot. We've largely forgotten the incantatory and invocational use of speech as a way of bringing ourselves into deeper rapport with the beings around us, or of calling the living land into resonance with us. It is a power we still brush up against whenever we use our words to bless and to curse, or to charm someone we're drawn to. But we wield such eloquence only to sway other people, and so we miss the greater magnetism, the gravitational power that lies within such speech. The beaver gliding across the pond, the fungus gripping a thick trunk, a boulder shattered by its tumble down a cliff or the rain splashing upon those granite fragments -- we talk about such beings, the weather and the weathered stones, but we do not talk to them.

"Entranced by the denotative power of words to define, to order, to represent the things around us, we've overlooked the songful dimension of language so obvious to our oral [storytelling] ancestors. We've lost our ear for the music of language -- for the rhythmic, melodic layer of speech by which earthly things overhear us."

Nattadon morning, 2

Nattadon morning, 3


Word magic

Cows in the lane, 1

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

"All things have the capacity for speech -- all beings have the ability to communicate something of themselves to other beings. Indeed, what is perception if not the experience of this gregarious, communicative power of things, wherein even obstensibly 'inert' objects radiate out of themselves, conveying their shapes, hues, and rhythms to other beings and to us, influencing and informing our breathing bodies though we stand far apart from those things?

Cows in the lane, 2

"Not just animals and plants, then, but tumbling waterfalls and dry riverbeds, gusts of wind, compost piles and cumulus clouds, freshly painted houses (as well as houses abandoned and sometimes haunted), rusting automobiles, feathers, granite cliffs and grains of sand, tax forms, dormant volcanoes, bays and bayous made wretched by pollutants, snowdrifts, shed antlers, diamonds, and daikon radishes, all are expressive, sometimes eloquent and hence participant in the mystery of language. Our own chatter erupts in response to the abundant articulations of the world: human speech is simply our part of a much broader conversation.

Cows in the lane, 3

"It follows that the myriad things are also listening, or attending, to various signs and gestures around them. Indeed, when we are at ease in our animal flesh, we will sometimes feel we are being listened to, or sensed, by the earthly surroundings. And so we take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than a merely human meaning and resonance. This care -- this full-bodied alertness -- is the ancient, ancestral source of all word magic. It is the practice of attention to the uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world's unfolding."

Cows in the lane, 4

Cows 6* 6x8


The animals that we are

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From "A Prayer for a Wild Millennium" by Terry Tempest Williams (an essay published in Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert):

"I believe we need wilderness in order to be more complete human beings, to not be fearful of the animals that we are, an animal who bows to the incomparable power of natural forces when standing on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, an animal who understands a sense of humility when watching a grizzly overturn a stump with its front paw to forage for grubs in the lodgepole pines of the northern Rockies, an animal who weeps over the sheer beauty of migrating cranes above the Bosque del Apache in November, an animal who is not afraid to cry with delight in the middle of a midnight swim in a phospherescent tide, an animal who has not forgotten what it means to pray before the unfurled blossom of the sacred datura, remembering the source of all true visions.

Brooklyn street art by Ericailcane

"As we step over the threshold of the twenty-first century, let us acknowledge that the preservation of wilderness is not so much a political process as a spiritual one, that the language of law and science used so successfully to define and defend what wilderness has been in the past century must now be fully joined with the language of the heart to illuminate what these lands mean to the future."

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Mythic fiction and mythic art speak "the language of the heart," and can, I believe, play an important role in the fight to preserve wilderness and the wild for our children's children's children.

The wonderful paintings and drawing above are by the Italian street artist Ericailcane, based in Bologna. Please visit his website to see more of his work.


Wildness

White Kite Hovering by Jane Rosen.jpg

From Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths:

"The wild. I have drunk it, deep and raw, and heard it's primal, unforgettable roar. We know it in our dreams, when our mind is off the leash, running wild. 'Outwardly, the equivalent of the unconscious is the wilderness: both of these terms meet, one step even further on, as one,' wrote Gary Snyder. 'It is in vain to dream of a wildness distinct from ourselves. There is none such,' wrote Thoreau. 'It is the bog in our brains and bowls, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires the dream.'

"And as dreams are essential to the psyche, wildness is to life.

Change of Coat by Jane Rosen

"We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud. More. We are animal not only in body but in spirit. Our minds are the minds of wild animals. Artists, who remember their wildness better than most, are animal artists, lifting their heads to sniff a quick wild scent in the air, and they know it unmistakably, they know the tug of wildness to be followed through your life is buckled by that strange and absolute obedience. ('You must have chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,' wrote Nietzsche.) Children know it as magic and timeless play. Shamans of all sorts and inveterate misbehavers know it; those who cannot trammel themselves into a sensible job and life in the suburbs know it.

"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."

A Class of Birds by Jane Rosen

Lamb Girl and Fox Girl by Jane Rosen

The gorgeous drawings and sculptures above are by Jane Rosen, who works from a ranch in northern California. "Now art for me--when I see a shell, or I see a horse, when I see two weather systems meeting--I don't understand it with words," she says (in an interview with Richard Whittaker). "I feel something. I experience something. I am aware of it, but I can't say what it is. When I try to understand it with my hands, something in the alchemy--the process of working--engages a kind of listening, the underwater life connects. It registers something and begins to lead me. And so rather than impose, I follow. For me that is the art process."

To see more of her work, please visit her beautiful website and online gallery.


The Coyote Clan

copyright by T. Windling

From An Unspoken Hunger by Terry Tempest Williams:

copyright by T. Windling

"Members of the Coyote Clan are not easily identified, but there are clues. You can see it in their eyes. They are joyful and they are fierce.  They can cry louder and laugh harder than anyone on the planet. And they have an enormous range.

"The Coyote Clan is a raucous bunch: they have drunk from desert potholes and belched forth toads. copyright by T. WindlingThey tell stories with such virtuosity that you'll swear you've been in the presence of preachers.

"The Coyote Clan is also serene. They can float on their backs down the length of any river or lose entire afternoons to the contemplation of stone.

"Members of the Clan court risk and will dance on slickrock as flash floods erode the ground beneath their feet. It doesn't matter. They understand the earth re-creates itself day after day."

Their range is wide indeed...all the way to the green hills of Devon, and far beyond. Here in the Mythic Arts field, I like to think there's a little coyote in us all.

copyright by Shreve StocktonPaintings above: "Coyote and the Dog Spirits," "The Coyote Clan," and  "Coyote Woman."  Photograph: "Howling Away at the Gray" by Shreve Stockton, from her wonderful Daily Coyote site. I also highly, highly recommend her book of the same title. More coyote reading: articles here and here; poetry here, here, and here.


An Unspoken Hunger

The morning place.

From "The Politics of Place," an interview with Terry Tempest Williams conducted by Scott London (on the Insight & Outlook radio show):

London: You've said that your connection to the natural world is also your connection to yourself. Do you think that's true for everybody?

Williams: We're animals. I think we forget that. I think there is an ancient archetypal memory that still exists within us. If we deny that, what is the cost?  So I do think it's what binds us as human beings. I wonder, what is it to be human? Especially now that we're so urban. How do we remember our connection with place? What is the umbilical cord that roots us to that primal, instinctive, erotic place? Every time I walk to the edge of this continent and feel the sand beneath my feet, feel the seafoam move up my body, I think, Ah, yes, evolution. You know, it's there, we just forget....

Faery light.

...I worry that we we are a people in a process of great transition and we are forgetting what we are connected to. We are losing our frame of reference. Pelicans pass by and we hardly know who they are, we don't know their stories. Again, at what price?

I think it's leading us to a place of inconsolable loneliness. It's what I mean by "an unspoken hunger." It's a hunger than cannot be quelled by material things. It's a hunger that cannot be quelled by constant denial. I think that the only thing that can bring us into a place of fullness is being out in the land with other.

Then we remember where the source of our power lies.

Into the light.The full interview can be read in A Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams, edited by Michael Austin (USU Press, 2006).


When Women Were Birds

Birdie copyright T Windling

I've recently read Terry Tempest Williams' new book, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice, and I'm completely under its spell. It's a beautiful meditation on land, love, family, faith, activism, and art...all rooted in the red rock of southern Utah; a book that I already known I'll return to often in the years ahead.

When Women Were BirdsWhen it ended, I found myself so unwilling to part with William's clear, honest voice in my ear that I pulled out a stack of her previous books: Refuge, Red, Leap, etc.. They are wonderful to re-read all at once, in the sequence of publication, which allows one to follow the evolution of her work, politics, and spiritual beliefs. And although I first read these volumes when I, too, lived in the American South-west, returning to her books from the green hills of Devon underscores how universal our need is for connection to the wild.

So this, dear readers, is "Terry Tempest Williams Week" here at The Drawing Board, with a week's worth of quotes drawn from various books, essays, and interviews. Today's quote is from When Women Were Birds -- excerpted from a passage in which Williams reflects on the powerful art installation pictured below. (The birds are made out of X-ray film from hospital MRIs.)

"Now, in a shift of light," Williams writes, "the shadows of birds are more pronounced on the gallery's white wall. The shadow of each bird is speaking to me. Each shadow doubles the velocity, ferocity of forms. The shadow, my shadow now merges with theirs. Descension. Ascension. The velocity of wings creates the whisper to awaken....

"I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars."

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Swoop by Julia Barello"Swoop" by Julia Barello. Please visit the artist's website to see more of her work. If you're in the mood for further reading, an old article on mine on the folklore of birds is here.


Up on the moor

Sheep on Dartmoor

“People talk about medium. What is your medium? My medium as a writer has been dirt, clay, sand -- what I could touch, hold, stand on, and stand for -- Earth. My medium has been Earth. Earth in correspondence with my mind.”   - Terry Tempest Williams (from Finding Beauty in a Broken World)

Dartmoor

“I'm an Earth ecstatic, and my creed is simple: All life is sacred, life loves life, and we are capable of improving our behavior toward one another. As basic as that is, for me it's also tonic and deeply spiritual, glorifying the smallest life-form and embracing the most distant stars.”  - Diane Ackerman (from An Alchemy of Mind)

Dartmoor

“The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly, light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding. Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”  - Gretel Ehrlich (from The Solace of Open Spaces)

Dartmoor

“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”  - Diane Ackerman (from A Natural History of the Senses)

DartmoorThe soundtrack for this post: "On a Dartmoor Day" by Chris Back