Dream (or Stuff I Write at 3 AM)

I blew around the airport.
I’m too old to run
so I let the wind
of other people’s travels
blow me past,
swooping low, soaring high,
tumbling in swift spirals.

There would be an airplane
somewhere for me
in this wild place of portals.
I passed one gate
and could hear a plane outside
whispering machinely,
“Come on, hurry! Come to me!
I’ll take you somewhere
filled with delight
and suffused in wonder…”
But I blew on past so fast
I couldn’t even see its destination.
It wasn’t my gate anyway.

At last the wind dropped me, lightly
on my feet, slightly tipped, but
I soon straightened.
O, yes — a flight to Iona…
does Iona have an airport?
No……….. but…
I could get there from here
if only I knew the names
of all of the ancient stones.

And then a cat jumped on me
and we fell the rest of the way
out of the airport
and into my bed
Home. Warm bed. Cats.

Still, I did tell the cats
(when I fed them at midnight)
that I didn’t want to be
wakened early this morning,
certainly not at 3 AM
for their morning riot.

Yet…

Home, warm bed —
the best place of all.

New Years Past

Okay, a New Year’s Eve story from several years ago. Don’t know why I haven’t told it before, but I haven’t. It’s kind of long for the internet.

A few years back, I was living in a very poor neighborhood — not surprising as I was then very poor and ill myself. There were so many impoverished people around me — some because they were old and not well provided for, some because they were too mentally or physically disabled to work, and a few (very few) because “poor” was simply their lifestyle and they didn’t have any idea how not to be.

It was a bitterly cold night. There had been quite a bit of snow, a brief thaw, and now there was a mixture of slick ice, rough re-frozen lumps of snow here and there, and the freezing cold of the air. It wasn’t late — maybe 7 pm — and I’d suddenly realized that all the shops would be closed on the morrow and I was out of cat food — not mention various important bits of human food. Poor, but I had enough to get cat food and a bit of people food.

So, I went out to the car in a hurry, warmed it up a little, started carefully for the street, moving very slowly as I backed out of my parking space and turned toward the road — slowly, slowly through the treacherous ice. Almost immediately she slid on a large lump of ice in the parking lot and started moving slowly but stubbornly sideways.

Dear heavy old Volvo — there was no stopping her once gravity took hold. She slid toward the ditch between street and house and started inexorably down toward the bottom four feet away, nose-first. I slammed the brakes on hard — unwise tactics on ice, but there was nothing to lose at that point. She stopped halfway into the ditch, badly tilted, and with the front wheels in the cold, thin air of open space. The car frame under me resting on the ground, and the back wheels loosely touching — no traction at all, but gently kissing the earth. Balanced. Just. My foot stayed as hard on the brakes as it could go and the car trembled on her balance point with my every movement, every breath. I hung on. The stars looked down as stars do at such moments with apparent total disinterest.

No one was outside — not in that cold. I waited. And waited, all of my focus on that brake pedal. Eventually an old car pulled up across the street where I knew an elderly woman lived. A pile of men and boys got out. Noticing my strangely precarious parking spot, the eldest in the lead as a string of others followed, all strolled ponderously across the icy street toward me, almost like a herd of peaceful elephants drifting across the veldt toward an interesting but not threatening curiosity. How had they all gotten into that ordinary-sized car? I rolled down my window and Eldest stated matter-of-factly, “Hey, you got a problem here.”

“I know,” I said humbly. “She slid. On the ice.”

He nodded. They ambled around the car, quietly discussing the problem. I sat with my foot hard on the brake. The parking brake never was worth much, but I had pulled it, slowly and carefully, on all the way on as well. Eldest, gray hair shining in the faint light like a halo, gently drifted back to the window and announced, “Some of the boys sit on the back, bring her rear end down to ground,  some push her up and back from the front, and some pull her backwards with ropes up on the parking lot while you give her a little gas. Not much or she just slip. We do it.”

I wish I could do a Samoan accent here, but I can’t so you’ll have to do the best you can with making it yourself. And did you know that some Samoans are BIG people? These were tall and sturdy. I couldn’t count them, milling around in the dark as they were, but the grown ones were massive and both they and the boys were enthusiastic. Yes, it might be possible.

It wasn’t. Even several large Samoans in bulky, heavy winter coats didn’t seem to outweigh the engine and strongly-built front end hanging out in space. (Old Volvos were famous for their strength and toughness.) I wound up six inches farther into the ditch in spite of the vein-pounding, strong pushing and pulling. I was seriously frightened for the ones in the front, who seemed not willing to give up. I jammed the brakes back on.

By this time my other neighbors were out, gathering in shivering clumps, talking quietly to each other and shaking their heads, but not coming near, not wanting to get into whatever trouble might ensue. One woman did offer me a cup of coffee, but for the most part they were heads-down people — poor in money, poor in spirit, pre-defeated people staying back out of trouble.

Eldest came back to the window. I mentioned, not really hopeful, that it might be a good idea to call a tow truck. Eldest shook his head.

“New Year’s Eve, all this ice — tow truck busy everywhere. Not come for hours, if come ever. And if tow truck do come, he call cops and report.” He slowly shook his head. All of them shook their heads like big tree tops waving in a strong wind. “Not wanting cops. Just trouble, cops. Big fines, maybe jail. You not want cops.”

I agreed. I didn’t want cops. Really, I couldn’t pay for a tow truck anyway. I sat with my both of my feet jammed on the brake, one on top of the other — the first leg had long since started to quiver with the strain and needed its mate to help. (It occurs to me now, as it didn’t then, that with the back wheels off the ground the brakes probably weren’t doing any good at all, but even if I’d thought of that at the time, nothing could have made me release them. Opening a window was okay, opening a heavy door, letting it swing its weight forward as it opened was unthinkable in that precarious position.)

Considering things slowly with my near-frozen brain, I said, “We could do it with a heavy truck. With chains on its tires. And a big chain to pull the car. Because an ordinary rope just isn’t going to do this. But… we don’t have any of this.”

He said, “Yeah, we don’t got, but maybe I know where we get.” He sent several men off in their car on incomprehensible errands and went with them. He left two of the sturdiest to stand guard over me. I don’t know what they could have done if the car decided to tip another inch and go down nose-first into that steep, deep ditch. Then I noticed that two more of the biggest had quietly gone to the back and were sitting on it again. I don’t know if that really helped, but it was comforting.

I saw my cats sitting in the window — waiting, watching, probably wondering what I thought I was doing now. And where was their promised dinner?

About an hour later (it felt like ten, like my dashboard clock was seriously lying — I swear the hands barely moved for long stretches of time) their car came back with only Eldest and the young driver.

“We fix,” he announced, looming over the car with an enormous, gleaming smile scintillating in the starlight.

And what to my wondering eyes did appear but a huge behemoth of a truck lumbering down the road? Looking about to fall apart, but certainly meeting the criteria of big, it pulled ponderously into place behind me with gentle mutterings and rattles. There was still plenty of room in the parking lot. The driver, sized to fit his truck, gazed at the car calmly, considered, nodded once, smiled at me, went to the back of the truck, and began pulling chains out, letting them clank and clatter to the ground. There was a rattle of tire chains as they struggled with these fairly foreign-to-us-coastal-Washingtonians objects. At last, the tire chains seemed in order, and they began rattling and tugging at a much more mammoth chain, stretching it out on the ground. It looked a lot like a massive boat’s anchor chain. They hooked it on to the truck and wrapped it thoroughly onto and around the strongest points under the back of my car (whatever they were) and looped it back to the truck. It certainly wasn’t hitched to the wee metal loop meant for hooking things onto. Nor to the rusted back bumper. With a final jerk and a tug that jolted the car and made my stomach somersault, they stood back. Eldest checked the chain and nodded. The truck driver checked it and nodded. The nods ran through the rest of the watching forest.

Back at my window again, Eldest said to me. “Truck pull, you feel her moving back, take foot off brake and give her little gas. In reverse,” he stressed, looking at me intently to be sure I understood. Feet still pushing hard on the brake, I restarted the engine, let her idle, and put her gently almost into reverse. He grinned and patted the window frame.

I nodded, thoroughly rejecting a sneaky, scared inner vision of the chain breaking under the stress, the truck plummeting into and through the houses on the other side of the parking lot, and the Volvo and I diving down into the hole ahead. Even in the snow, the ditch looked hard and dangerous. I knew from personal observation that it had big rocks in the bottom, and by now that ditch yawned fifteen feet deep in my mind. Or maybe even bottomless. I knew it was three or four, but it felt like fifteen. Or bottomless.

“We do, lady, we do.” Deep voice at the window. Very reassuring. I believed him — by then I couldn’t imagine him not doing anything he was determined to do.

The truck rattled, coughed a few times, and revved up with an uncertain rumble. I noticed that all my other neighbors had silently disappeared. I hoped they were not all in the house right in front of the truck. The chain tightened and the Volvo quivered. I could feel every link in the chain go taut. Go, baby, go! Be a real Volvo!

We began to move very slowly, inching backwards, the car’s undercarriage scraping along the gravelly ground. I took my foot off of the brakes, put her into reverse, and gave her a little touch more gas. The front end started to rise as the wheels began to touch the edge of the ditch. Finally, they were back up on terra firma. Another two slow feet back. Eldest slapped the side of the car and shouted once. A word I didn’t know. The truck stopped. I put on the parking brakes and turned the ignition off.

As I climbed out of the car on trembling and shaky legs — I had been holding the brake down as hard as I could for over an hour with both feet and every bit of strength I had and I might have been afloat on a sea of adrenaline. I was surrounded by huge grins and happy murmurs of approval. There may have been the patting of backs and shaking of hands amid the clank of chains being removed. I reached back in the car for my purse, but Eldest put his hand on my arm, and shook his head “no”. Fiat!

I began babbling, “Thank you thank you thank you thank you” over and over. I hugged Eldest and he hugged me back. I hugged all of them, I think, there in the dark and cold, still babbling. Samoans, these Samoans, my neighbors did great hugs. I needed all of them, giving and receiving in the only currency that met the need of that moment.

Eldest offered to have one of the younger ones park her for me. I said, “Oh, no! I’m going to the store.”

He laughed and slapped the car again. “You go! She good car! You go!” There was a chorus of quiet laughter and approving “you go!” and I went. I must have been crazy — the snow plows had been along the main streets but hadn’t done much good there and had not even attempted anything in the supermarket’s parking lot. But I got the cat food and with the rest of my money I bought the biggest cake, the most lavish cake I could find. It said ‘Happy New Year’ on it in Spanish. That seemed appropriate — good will expressed mutually incomprehensibly.

When I got home again, I fed the cats and went across the road to where the Samoan grandmother lived by herself, though I’d noticed before that she was rarely truly by herself — family was always popping in and out. I knocked on her door, and it was answered by Grandmother herself, matriarch of the clan. I’m far from young, and I’ve my share of wrinkles, but she had wrinkles from here to forever. They got even crinklier and wrinklier as she smiled her eyes into shiny slits and nodded. She knew the whole story from a viewpoint I’d never know. I handed her the cake and said several more fervent thank yous. We couldn’t speak a intelligible word to each other, but we both got it. She hugged me and gestured for me to come in. I could hear a boisterous family party of all ages going on behind her. I was overcome by a fit of unusual shyness and with a final “thank you,” I bolted for home.

It was my best New Year’s Eve ever. I don’t know how many New Year’s Eve parties I’d disrupted that evening, but everyone seemed to think their evening all the better for the disruption. A rescue! What fun! It might have been a lot better still had I been a little braver and less of a hermit. It might have changed my life then and changed my entire perception of my neighborhood. It did change it some, but it might have been a lot more. A revelation. Still, it was no longer seemed a totally unfriendly place of strangers to me. After that, when I went out and daughters were sitting in the sun watching grandchildren play, the daughters and I smiled and said hello. Tall, bulky young men passing on the street waved and lit up with a smile. A gift. A precious gift.

It is now 4 AM on January 1st, anno domini 2016. All of us now still breathing have made it into yet another year. My adventures have been “interesting” in this year past as well and taught me much about community and family, I’m grateful for what this and all of the years before have taught me about what makes people strong, what makes people weak, about family, about community, about people who have it and people who don’t.

If we stand on the solid ground of a cohesive family, a sharing community, it is far easier to reach out to others in need. If our foundations rest on the shifting sands of casual friends who are here today and gone tomorrow, it is much harder to realize that “everyone for themselves” and “look out for number one” are just nonsense, both impossible and foolish. We need each other. At unexpected moments and impossible-to-predict times, we need each other. We can’t just turn our backs and walk away.

And we need gratitude. We ourselves need to know that we have reason to be grateful, even if all we think we still have is our breath and major challenges.

We learn compassion and strength from our families and communities, and that is the key that gives us the ability to stand solid and to reach out to strangers without fear — and without needing to make fantasies and excuses for our fears as we slink away. Perhaps one of the marks of a healthy community is that it can welcome strangers in and assimilate them hospitably.

Living in community and working together in good will through the problems that naturally arise between people generates both a strength and a willingness to embrace others into the sheltering circle. And we all know that a circle is a line that has no end.

Glastonbury Tor, Thanksgiving Eve

This evening as we were sharing Thanksgiving tarot readings, my friend Nancy recommended that I make a visionary journey to Glastonbury Tor. The original subject of our discussion was Gratitude — what has the Lady Gratitude been trying to teach us, and what is right action for us now that we’ve learned a bit more about it?

Basically, the lesson for both of us seems to be the perennial “Trust the Process” but with more detail. For my part, yes, things are tough now (and probably so for a bit yet to come), but life will become less stressful than it has been, better than before in many ways, and I will have even more help with the creative things I need to do — if I’m trusting the process and not letting the temporary stuff get me down.

I wanted to share this journey with you because this is unlike my usual inner journeys in that it doesn’t have a set format. Those of you who have been in my classes and/or read my book Sun over Mountain may remember that we use guided imagery for many purposes. There were a lot of questions for the person journeying to help them understand the images that arose for them. This time, instead, we find me wandering around, looking for my path, and simply allowing it to open before me. This process is more structured than a daydream and less so than guided imagery with a set pattern — and I wanted you to see how it might work for you. Before beginning the journey, the first thing I did was to draw a card from my personal oracle — a blend of the Faeries’ Oracle and my unfinished Faery Wisdom Journey Oracle:

The Bright Mother, who is so loving and nurturing and wise, says…

I am asking you to give up your defenses.

I know, I know, it seems to you that they are what keeps you safe in the worlds, but, in fact, they are what make you vulnerable. Let them go as you find them, and discover how strong you are without them.

Defenses are a much heavier burden than you realize, and it is only by letting them go that you become invulnerable.

If you don’t know how to do this, just ask and I’ll help you find the way. And do eat properly as you go!

Faery blessings on the growing!

And now for the journey to the Tor…

I usually begin these journeys by entering a cave, but that doesn’t feel right tonight. I let my mind wander, looking for a way in, allowing impressions to simply arise in my mind. I gradually realize that I’m surrounded by mist and darkness. I don’t see a way at all. But then a thought drifts by that the theme here is probably about trusting the process. As soon as that dawns (O, the fae are such punsters), I sense myself standing in misty moonlight. Pale in the western sky is the setting Moon. She looks about five days old — more than a slim new crescent but less than a quarter — She is young, full of hopes and dreams and creative energy, and closely following the Sun.

Barely, I see the darkness of Glastonbury Tor outlined against the lighter, but darkening sky. Walking towards the crest of the Tor is easy walking — far easier for me than climbing it in the so-called “real” world — just a gentle upward slope. (Or I’m stronger here, which is something to think about later.) Barefoot, the grass tenderly caresses my soles. Lightly moving upward, I begin to see the silhouette of St. Michael’s Tower against the starless sky. As always, from a distance, there are faint lights moving around the tower as the energy fountains up from the many ley lines here.

No one else seems to be there — no faery, no people, no ancestors, no winds — just silence, so I simply sit on the grass, patiently still. After a while a small, white, short-haired kitten, hight Gwenhwyfar, comes and sits precariously on my knee. She is so young, she is still wobbly. I ask her if she is my guide, and she nods her head vigorously, nearly falling over. She has long tufts on her ears, and they are very charming, waving in the moonlit air.

She hops down onto the grass, regains her balance, and skitters off, racing around the tower — one, two, three circuits deasil, followed by three circles widdershins. She then dashes into the tower, and squeaks loudly to call me. I get up. (Getting up from the ground is also much easier than I’m accustomed to in “real” life as well — perhaps I should come here to live!) Following Gwenhwyfar into the tower, I expect it to be dark — and it is as dark as it can possibly be.

My toes bump against stone. Bending over and feeling the stone with my hand I find stone steps, which I’ve never seen in the tower before. They stick out from the wall, with spaces between them, like the spiral steps in a round tower. Since St. Michael’s tower is square, it provides a larger step at every corner. It’s probably just as well that I can’t see their worn, irregular shapes. Above my head, Gwenhwyfar mews loudly, her voice echoing up and down the tower like an full choir of kittens.

It seems that the easiest thing to do is to go up on all fours as she did. But it isn’t — I hadn’t realized I was wearing a robe, which is now tangling under my feet. Carefully standing erect again with my left hand on the wall and lifting the robe with my right, I can creep up the stones without stumbling. Gwenhwyfar startles me by racing down and brushing around my ankles, saying “Mrrr, mrrrrrr!” which clearly means “Hurry up!”

After several more steps, I feel a soft pressure on the top of my head as if I were pushing against a light balloon. Suddenly, with a pop the pressure disappears and my head pokes through … something. Now my eyes are in the light, but below them everything is still in darkness. The light is silvery-clear and there is something floating in it — dust motes? Faery glitter? Tiny, they are, yet intensely bright. Carefully, but a bit lighter and faster, I continue up the stairs until my feet also enter the light. I’d like to sit down there, but Gwenhwyfar is hooking her tiny claws into the hem of my robe, tugging so hard I’m afraid that she will tumble off the steps. It feels like a very long way down.

Hmmm… if she is a spirit cat or a faery cat or even an imaginary cat, would the fall hurt her? Or would she simply levitate up and bat me on the nose for recalcitrance? Best not to find out any of those things, best just to go to the top and hope for a place to rest there.

Climbing up, the light changes — first to a gentle red, then to pale peach, then a light but warmly sunny yellow, a clear cool sea green, a dreamy blue, crystalline amethyst, and then the purest white I can imagine. We are at the top, no doors, no windows, the narrow openings to the outside are below us, and although I know there is no roof above us, there is a pearlescent something — a mist? An out-of-focus ceiling? It glows.

It was a long ascent upward. I sit on the top step and Gwenhwyfar leans against me. I feel her purring. She climbs up my robe, vibrating busily. Kitten-like, she wants to be on top of my head. Her purr resonates in my skull, echos in my mouth.

The air gradually fills with a wordless musical hum, at first barely audible, then becoming more clear as we listen. It sounds like antiphonal plainsong without words. The high notes are almost the chime of small silver bells, the rich low tones make the tower tremble, the notes between all reverberate, resounding from my bones, from all of the rigid or taut places within me. As they sound the muscles go soft, the notes going through the bones like a hollow flute, hallowed by their song.

I don’t know how long I sit here — or even where I “really” am. The purr chases its own tail within me like musical laughter until my whole self smiles, and I drift away… somewhere, nowhere, everywhere — energy and light singing within and around me.

After I come back feeling much lighter, happier, and more blessed than I did, I drew another card to see what the Oracle had to say about all this.

From the Faeries’ Oracle…

The Singer of Transfiguration congratulates you on the growing and transforming you have been doing! It has not been an easy path and you may not feel quite settled into your new way of being yet, but you’re almost there.

Trust the process!

And a thousand, thousand faery blessings upon your transformation!

In the morning there will be dew everywhere, sparkling in the sun.

*********

For me, there are several points of special interest here, but I think I’ll save my thoughts on them until I see if you have any comments or questions.

And next time, I think I’ll go to the Chalice Well…

Dementia

rainbow-bit I want to understand my sister. I have this deeply ingrained belief that understanding leads to being able to help. BUT!

Without a medical miracle this wish will never come true. Dementia is cruel that way. Understanding depends on things having a reason, but dementia reduces everything to fragments, disconnected from any reason, free-floating in a destroyed brain.

“I don’t know why all these bats are flying around the house making such a racket!” she says.

The cats have been running up and down the hall as cats do, so I say, “Yes, the cats are quite wild just now.”

“NO!” she replies indignantly. “You’re not listening. I didn’t say cats — I said bats! Those black things that fly.”

I’ve learned to say, “O. I’m sorry I misunderstood.” That much is true at least.

About three this morning she came into my room to wake me. I was already awake, of course — the cats tell me immediately when she is up and roaming. She was amused and wanted to tell me about the man and the two little boys who had just come into her room. One of the boys was looking for a dog, but the father told him that the dog wasn’t there, and they left. She thought this was quite funny and asked, “What would I be doing with a dog? Shall I fix you your breakfast?”

(She can find the kitchen now, but as for fixing breakfast, no. She spent twenty minutes the other day trying to bring me a glass of water that she had offered to get for me. I usually say, “No, thank you.” This time I said, “Yes, please” just to see what would happen. The kitchen was ten feet from where I was sitting. She often can’t get that far before forgetting why she has gone there. It took 20 minutes of restarts before the glass of water wound up on the table beside me.)

So, when she offered to make breakfast at 3 AM, I replied, “No, thank you. How about I fix you a snack — peanut butter and banana on toast?”

“O, that would be all right,” she responded glumly. She had visions of I-don’t-know-what — and never will know. She went back to bed and was sleep before I could get the toaster going, so I left the snack on the tray beside her bed. She’ll eat it when she wakes up again in the night. She won’t know or need to know where it came from, and she won’t remember it in the morning. She might ask me why a plate is in her bed, but probably not. It may be inside the pillow case with the pillow. But the food will be gone. It is a bit like making offerings to a capricious god — they are almost always taken, but one is never sure by whom or what.

Our days and our nights have little consistency. Her viewpoint is chaotic, without order, most things forgotten very rapidly and things remembered that never happened. But it’s quite remarkable how much chaos can be created in a house by one elderly, exceedingly slow-moving woman, unsteady on her feet, who cannot remember where she was going or why or what she picked up along the way nor where she put it down.

I yearn for order, for reason, for understanding, for a way to make things better — for her and for me. Even for the cats who are bewildered by her and wary of her slow fumbling traverses of the house. They watch her with perplexed and concerned eyes. So do I. I want to understand her, but it isn’t going to happen. It’s like living with a natural force — a storm, a tidal wave, a fire. Things don’t have to have any reason why — at least not a reason within the scale of human comprehension.

For me this is an intensive spiritual exercise. Perhaps someday I’ll be grateful for having had it. I try to be grateful now.

rainbow-bit

Ol' Mama Karma

I have to tell you the bad news first. I’ve just realized that I know where Ol’ Mama Karma lives. Not for her the big marble palace in the sky equipped with golden thrones and swift-flying horses and an armory full of thunder bolts. No. Not for her all that Sturm und Drang of traveling at a breakneck pace around the world to smite the sinner with her lightning (along with a hapless shepherd or two up in the high summer pastures with his dogs and sheep). No. These days it would drive her wild to have to keep up with all of our iniquitous behavior. She has it all worked out in the simplest, most economical, most comfortable way — for her.

Think about it!

Ol’ Mama Karma lives in the center of every and each heart, where she putters around quite happily as long as all is well. It isn’t our making an error that brings her into action. No. She forgives mistakes — as long as we learn from them and don’t make them again. But the second time, when we know (or at least suspect that we know) better… ah, then!

An error repeated darkens our heart, making it colder, and so for the sake of comfort, she reaches out with her broom, and gives a firm whack on the tender, vulnerable wall of the heart. This reminder sends a quiver and a shiver, a palpitation and a pulsation undulating through body, mind, and spirit. We know when we’ve done wrong. All the denial, all the self-justification, the rationalization, the self-vindication, and the outright whitewashing we do cannot hide us from ourselves successfully. See how neat it is? She scarcely has to do a thing.

She is not some vengeful, sour old woman making up silly rules about shellfish and sex for us to break so she can scold and torment us. No one but a psychopath would want to spend their days doing that.

And speaking of punishing, not only do we recognize our own wrong-doing, but we instigate our own chastisement as well. We know just exactly how guilty we are, and we put ourselves in the way of our own penance. She might prefer that we simply learn something so we’d actually do better next time, but by her own rules, she sits and watches, knitting and nodding (or shaking her head), often with a tiny smile on her beautiful, ageless face, as she practices the natural magic of letting things happen with just the least little nudge.

It’s a system that has worked nearly effortlessly (for her) for eons — possibly as far back as the first amoeba, perhaps right back to the hearts of the miniscule molecules of the precursors of life. She is in our own hearts, as much a part of us as the beat of them and of the breath that keeps them going. She simply lives in our hearts. Just that.

So the good news is that it’s in our own hands. And perhaps that is the bad news as well. What do you think?

Cuckoo's Story

I wrote this story a number of years ago when I still lived in Scotland. It is based on an old Celtic legend. I wanted to post something here today, but none of the three things I’ve been working on are quite ready, and this is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Do you know the Celtic legend of the cuckoo? As I write this at the end of June, the cuckoo is calling in my back garden. The West of Scotland is magical country, suitable for a magical bird, and we hear the cuckoo’s call to tell us that spring is truly here, regardless of what the weather may be doing.

It seems that the gods decided (for godly reasons, no doubt) that they wanted to stop the to-ing and fro-ing between Tir-nan-Og (the Land of Eternal Youth) and the mundane world. Probably having so many mortals (heroes and druids and suchlike) rollicking about lowered the property values. Anyway, they told everyone in Tir-nan-Og, including all of the animals and all of the birds, that they would have to choose which world they wanted to live in – the world of immortality and stasis or the world of mortality and seasons, of growth and decay. They forgot to tell the bees who, ever since, have simply ignored the whole thing and done as they pleased, but that’s another story.

Everyone made their choice except Cuckoo. She thought and she thought, but she couldn’t decide. The gods probably said, ‘Come on! Hurry up!’ They probably tapped their toes impatiently. I don’t know for sure, because I wasn’t there, and she who reported what happened didn’t say, but I expect that they did. It would be just like them. And I most definitely wouldn’t like them tapping their toes like that at me.

Poor old undecided Cuckoo just couldn’t make up her mind. At last she told the gods that she couldn’t bear to live without the beauty and magic of Tir-nan-Og, but neither could she give up growing and changing, living and bearing and someday, but please not too soon thank you very much, dying. She begged and she pleaded and she argued. She just wouldn’t give up or give in. The gods got fed up with this and put their heads together (gods can do these things; the rest of us would probably get our brains all mixed and mushed up).

After a certain amount of argument and cogitation, they made a decision. They said to Cuckoo, ‘Right. You can continue to travel between the worlds. But there are conditions.’

Poor Cuckoo’s heart sank. You know what sort of things that gods tend to think up when they start thinking about conditions.

‘First, you must agree to serve as our messenger between the worlds, carrying our messages to mortal creatures.’

‘Oh, yes,’ Cuckoo interrupted happily, her heart bobbing back up. ‘I’d be honored to do that, Great Ones.’

‘That isn’t all,’ they said grimly and smugly at the same time. Cuckoo’s heart sank back down again, even lower.

‘You must never build a nest in either world. You must lay your eggs in the nests of other birds to be hatched or not hatched by them, as they will. For this you will be castigated and vilified and blamed. If ever you build a nest in either world, you will be confined to that world evermore.’

Now, when humans say ‘evermore’ it only means ‘until we change our minds’ or ‘until we forget about it’, but when the gods say it, they really mean it. Poor Cuckoo’s heart fell on the ground and cracked.

‘Does this mean,’ she asked sadly, ‘that I would not be allowed to feed and care for my own children, to nurture and protect and teach them?’
‘Yes,’ said the gods.

‘Does it mean I’d have to depend on the charity of other birds for the well-being of my little chicks, for their very lives?’

‘Yes,’ said the gods.

‘Does it mean that I would never know my own chicks, and they would never know their own parents?’

‘Yes,’ said the gods.

Cuckoo thought and she thought. Her wings drooped sadly, and her heart felt as though it would crack forever in two. At last, she asked, ‘But does it also mean that my children will have the freedom of both worlds, forever and evermore?

‘Yes,’ said the gods.

‘You swear? No games, no tricks, and no more conditions?’

‘Yes,’ said the gods, squirming a little because they had been thinking of a godly trick or two. (I certainly do hope that the gods feel at least a little bit guilty and ashamed about this whole thing, because it was a terrible thing to do to anyone, least of all to a little bird with a loving mystic’s heart.)

So that is how cuckoo became a career woman with an important job to do. For this she paid the huge price of never knowing her own children, never being able to feed them and cuddle them warm, never feeling the pride of watching their first flight, never… never… never… But in exchange for the things she lost, she gained them free entry to the Land of the Forever Young.

Nowadays many people think that cuckoos migrate to Africa or somewhere every winter, and they are right. But on the way to and fro, they detour through Tir-nan-Og, where they rest for a while, refresh their spirits, and pick up messages from the gods for delivery.

This is why spring, when the cuckoos first arrive, is such a magical time and everything grows so fast. They not only bring messages, but caught in their wings, they also bring a bit of the air and the magic of Tir-nan-Og to a bereft mortal world.

And this is why their song has such a mournful note.

This is also why it is most unlucky to harm a cuckoo or a cuckoo’s egg. It’s every bit as bad as harming a wren, and you know what that means, don’t you?

This is also why it is important to listen, listen, listen with all your senses, inner and outer, when you hear the song of the cuckoo. There is always a message from the gods in it for you. And as exasperating as they can be at times, it’s just as well to pay attention to the gods when they deign to speak to us.

I know these things are true, not only because they are Celtic legend (which is the best and truest kind of legend), but also because the cuckoo swears they’re true. And if you can’t believe a messenger from the gods, who can you believe?

© 1995 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Within Stone (or The Altitude of Wu Wei)

My good friend, Nancy Hendrickson of TarotExplorer.com, strongly recommended that I go on an inner journey. Specifically, she suggested that I go to the heart of a stone and there talk to the Hierophant of the tarot and ask him about what the stones are trying to teach me just now — because clearly they are trying to teach me something.

The stone whose heart I’m going into was given to me by a good friend, Jerry George. It came all the way from the high land of Tibet to live with me. He had found several of these small, smooth, pieces of jade and had been surprised to find those particular stones in that place — he knows his geology and they would not have been expected to be there. Where had they come from? How did they get there? No one knew. He brought them all the way back, and for thirty years now he has carried one in his pocket. I carried mine in my pocket or in my purse. (Why do so many women’s clothes not have useful pockets?) Then a terrible thing happened — I lost it. It must be somewhere in my house, but I cannot find it. I feel bereft and ashamed, guilty of being careless of its well-being and special value — unless it ran away, which is also possible.

But tonight I realized that of course I still carry this precious stone in my heart along with many other stones — the standing stones of Calanais, the stones of the blessing cairn here at home, my outdoor altar at home, the cairn on Dun I on the Isle of Iona, Castlerigg stone circle, the huge lump of white quartz that I brought home in Scotland and eventually had to leave behind because the movers refused to try to lift it, and so many others, large and small. I can only begin to acknowledge them all. They live in my heart and sometimes I feel them murmuring in tones too deep, too slow to hear. Trees and other beings live there too, but tonight it is the stones who wish to speak, especially the small Tibetan stone that I have mislaid but that is still with me.

So I begin this journey within at the gate to my own heart. At this moment, it is a small wooden gate with hinges that squeek their own song, swinging loose in the wind. It opens itself for me, and I freely pass through.

The path to the stone is grassy — greenly aromatic, gentle underfoot. The stars in the dark sky above are shining brightly. A soft breeze lazily plays with my hair. Ahead in the darkness the stone rests on the ground. Although the stone I was given is quite small, here it is its true size, as big as a house. In front of me there is a door, the door to the heart of the stone. The door is small, just big enough for me to enter. All around its frame rune-like symbols are carved. The door swings itself open for me, and as I enter in, I see that it is a someone’s home. A bright fire burns on the hearth. On either side of the fire, turned so they both face each other and the fire, are two comfortable armchairs. I sit in the one on the left, and as I do, I remember that the dark column is on the left side of the High Priestess tarot card, so I am sitting in the yin, receiving place.

Faint shadows move in the other chair in the flickering light of the fire, and gradually the hierophant becomes visible. He is dressed like the pope, but in a shimmering cloth that seems to be all colors at once, even white, even black. I am distracted, fascinated by that cloth for a while and when I come back to the present moment, I see that the shadows have solidified, become someone visibly real. It is the hierophant. He grins at me, almost mischievously, as if inviting me to enjoy his neat arrival trick. Without moving, he is here, as if he had always been solidly and really here.

I rub my nose and apologize for having entered uninvited. He both acknowledges and dismisses my apology with a casual wave of his hand. “The first pope,” he elucidates didactically, “was Peter — and as you may recall “peter” comes from petra and means rock. He was the foundation rock of the church. I am not that pope, but I am the foundation, the true rock of the earth. Now, why are you here?”

I’m not sure of the answer — is “I was told to come” a true answer? My mind is a blank. Is this going to be one of those journeys? The ones that go nowhere? I think of leaving and coming back later, but know that only rarely do I come back to the same place again after leaving it. Catch the moment or let it go… which? I feel more like a butterfly than a rock — and how do butterflies communicate with rocks?

I rise from my chair and sit on the floor at this honored teacher’s feet.

“On these journeys of yours,” he prompts me, “you usually ask, what do I, the guide, need from you — remember?”.

I nod. I’ve only been making these intentional spirit journeys for a little under 50 years in this life — you’d think that by now I’d remember how to get back on track when I get lost. Why do I feel so confused?

Ummm. Because I’m not grounded. Here I am, sitting inside a rock, talking to Rock, sitting on the stone floor, and I am not grounded. I try to “sit like a mountain” as I do when I meditate. Not working — I’m still fluttering. How about sitting like a tree, roots running deep, leaves moving in the breeze?

My spirit self stubbornly persists in randomly floating like a butterfly. Why?

The hierophant’s intense dark eyes pin me in place, my invisible, intangible wings still fluttering. To him, to All Stone, I am like a butterfly — light, floaty, ephemeral. As permanent as a mayfly. It dawns on me that I can be nothing else! To the deep stone, I am impermanent, even evanescent. Fizzy me. I stop trying to be grounded like a stone and instead rise gently in the air. The stone I feel most like is a reverse meteor rising slowly up through the air, slipping free of gravity, burning in my moment of bright insight.

I have spent all of these years trying to be grounded. What am I, what will I be if I let myself go free — ephemeral, short-lived, momentary… floating? This is so relaxing. There is no effort in floating. Being a grounded, practical doer is so effortful… and exhausting. I remember with a feeling of d’oh! that I learned once before, long ago, how relaxing and healing it was to just float, just be free, be diffuse and unfocused. I even made a “meditation technique” of it and taught it to others. (At the right time in the right circumstances, this is a valuable skill  — but it is not a substitute for meditation or being well earthed in the right circumstances for that.)

At this realization, the rigid Stone around me melts and becomes Tree, branches waving in the breeze, roots reaching into Earthmama. Yet, though I may sit like a tree to meditate — usually — I am not a tree, not rooted. Mobile. Bouncy sometimes. Sometimes I flop down on Earthmama, my heart energy connected with her, sometimes I float on her waters or sit in the branches of trees, drifting.

Looking for my right place between the states of stone and vapor, I find my own specific gravity, the place where I am at home — the place of perfect balance, effortless, free, not holding, not releasing, just being. Sensing, noticing that this point changes moment by moment, like the balance of a surfer on a wave. The surfer, too, is in a medium where he neither sinks nor rises above — his natural place is on the boundary between. He bobs with the waves and with his own breath, a complex single movement flowing from many natural forces.

I have earth within me, solid bone, flesh, and bonded blood, and I have air and spirit within me, boundless. There is bright fire and flowing water too. All of the elements are part of me. My natural place is to be just as earthed as I need to be to do what I need to do at this moment. That’s it. That’s all.

Yet at other times I may need to soar freely to listen — to catch the messages that waft between the stars. Or at other present moments it may be time to be between the ebb and the flow to rest in my own specific gravity place — to rest, to restore, to recover, to recuperate, to regenerate, to re-create. Note that word STILL. Being connected to the universe, to stone beneath and stars above, is important. But it is equally important to allow Self to just BE, to rest, silent, not rigidly straight, not effortfully rising, but a living stillness that is in constant motion floating on the waves of the breath of the universe, letting my own breath be what it is and find its own harmony.

Tension is about holding an unnatural, inappropriate, or unskillful way of being. We know it is unnatural and unskillful because it requires tension to hold us there — how simple is that? Relaxation is about consciously letting go of that tension by focus and attention (“at tension” — isn’t that sneaky?) Both are doing. Peace is the place between, the point where nothing is needed, no action at all.

Wu wei.

Good God/dess, how could I have forgotten that?

Everything around me dissolves, becomes esse, being, even the man who is Stone. Nothing is left but a smile that isn’t even there.

Stones That Travel

jade-altar-stone

Earthquakes. as you know, are the results of the movement of stones, great tectonic plates slithering around beneath the surface of the earth, under the pressures of forces we barely begin to understand. Stones that move. Why? We make up reasons about the “how” but somehow don’t even think about the “why”.

Glaciers move. They are famous for it. And one of the things they move beneath their surfaces is stone. They chew great chunks of stone out of mountains, scraping and shattering and scattering, and they move smaller stones the size of a house or a shop or a bus. They even pick up tiny pebbles and grains of sand. They carry them all, sometimes for great distances.

Have you ever picked up a pebble from the beach and carried it around in your pocket? Why? Because it’s pretty? Because it sparkles? Because it has a unique shape or markings that look like… something? Because it might be precious? Because … just because? Consider flowers and how they attract insects to help fertilize them — scents, colors, even honey, the naughty things! And here we are picking up stones and carrying them around… why?

Suppose you carry a stone home and put it in your garden… what makes you want to do that? What is hidden in you, deep beneath the surface of your mind? More importantly, perhaps, what does the stone want? Is your garden its final destination? Or has it further travels simmering in its slow mind?

I have to admit that I do this. There are rocks in my garden that came from Scotland, from Wales and England, from Mount Laguna, from Hurricane Ridge, and from Pillar Bay. Wherever I go, I’m very apt to come home with my pockets full of small stones — and possibly a shopping bag for larger or more grubby rocks.

When we were about to move from Scotland back to the USA, my husband asked if he could throw my box of “random” stones and pebbles away. Galvanized, I leaped up and shouted, “Let me sort them first!”

“Never mind,” he muttered and packed the lot. We brought them all.

There is a stone in my garden, wild jade. According to my son, it weighs something between three and four hundred pounds — closer to four. It is the altar in my garden. We found it in the decomposed granite soil well beneath the surface where the fir and western red cedar trees grow.

The top of the stone was about three feet down, and it was discovered when we were digging a hole to hold a 1000 gallon water tank. My son put it where I wanted my altar to be. When I moved into town for few years it went with me, and when I moved back into the forest it came back again, my son grumbling all the way. It is smooth, dull green, with jade’s soapy feel but not a precious stone, except perhaps to me. In spite of the fact that I’m about 300 feet above sea level, it has white petrified barnacles (or something that looks so like barnacles that I can’t tell the difference) on one side of it. Is it a glacial erratic?

There is a lot of wild jade in this area, but I don’t know how far it traveled to get here. I know one thing though — if I were to move back to Scotland, it would go with me. It’s my altar, after all. A sacred stone, resting on the ground and beneath the surface of my heart and always with me.

Have you ever considered that all things might be alive? And conscious? Have you realized that our Earthmama is only soft in some places on the surface, and that beneath the surface, she is all stone, molten or rigid? And that she is in constant motion? Have you considered that we call her Earthmother, but we might more rightly call her Stonemother?

What if… just what if she creatively evolved all of us soft surface beings only to help shift stones around? In the distant past there have been several “die offs” where large portions of the soft surface life were eliminated from this planet. Was Stonemother simply clearing the way to evolve better movers of stone? From dynamite to bulldozers to denim pockets, are we (in the grand scheme of things) just facilitators for the movement of stone?

It’s something we have done since we began — simple stone tools, barrows and stone circles, stone huts, pyramids, marble temples, cathedrals, banks, grand homes — all of stone. We arranged the stones in beautiful patterns to show off their colors and lovely textures. We polished diamonds and rubies and quartz and all of the other scintillating, sparkling, seductive, glittering stones, and we wear them everywhere. “SHINY!” small girls shriek, and jewelers’ eyes gleam.

And now we build enormous structures: the huge buildings, the freeways and motorways — vast constructions of … cement. Certainly, it contains sand, and sometimes small rocks, but does it count? Have we gone wrong? Have we forgotten our true purpose in life?

We do know that we are facing yet another potential extinction period — is she planning to make room for even better movers of stone? Should we be focusing on this rather than carbon sequestration and changing temperatures?

It’s only a thought — please, don’t let it make you lie awake at night thinking about it. But I wonder, does Stonemother, or do the stones we have carried, know that we are alive and have feelings and thoughts in our own primitive way? Or do they see us as being like mayflies, flickering in and out in a moment, ephemeral? Have they any compassion for us at all?

I'm back…

It has been a while since I posted here. Several blogs have been partly written, but none were finished due to a sudden outbreak of stress and chaos and distress in my life. (There may be more about that later, but then again, there may not.)

As some of you know, I joined the July NaNoWriMo frenzy. (NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month in which you write a 50,000 word first draft of a novel. It has gone international.) Unfortunately, I didn’t frenz — too many distractions, too many things to do. I’d set my goal (you can do that in July but not in November) at 30,000 words — 1000 a day. Even I can do that, I thought. What’s more it would be easy to keep track of, which 1667 words a day last November wasn’t. I was wrong.

It was easy to keep track of, mostly because I hardly wrote anything. Six hundred and ninety-five words the first day and nothing for a week after. And more nothing the week after that. I’d planned to do the whole second draft of Marzipan’s True Adventures but was still stuck on how to sneak in the back-story without becoming turgidly tedious. I thought I might do it with a prologue, but it kept trying to turn into an entire prequel. Arrrgh.

Okay, I thought, I’ll just write the wretched prequel instead, a whole book in itself, and then I’ll do the second draft of the real story. Noooo. The prequel folk simply ran wild, busily doing things and becoming real characters but without a trace of a plot. Entertaining for Marzipan and me, but not probably not publishable. But even with spurts of prequel, the word count remained down in the few-and-far-between, barely visible with a microscope.

I’d so many great excuses, ranging from welcome guests to minor surgery to the now-usual chaos at home to wiltingly hot weather. I began to despair. In fact, I was on the verge of withdrawing from the whole NaNoWriMo thing and digging a deep, cool hole in my forest (like a modern fogou but without the stone walls). But that was too much work in hot weather. So.

All this finally led to a decision to simply give up on NaNoWriMo this time as an act of kindness to myself and to everyone listening to me moan about it, but I drew one of the oracle cards (from my (unfinished, unpublished) oracle in Second Life — actually Marzipan drew it for me) (now that I think about it, I’m a little suspicious of her motives). Anyway, the card very firmly advised me not to give up. So I’m going to change my goal to not-a-word-count-at-all, but to getting a fairly good version of a short prologue. I may be able to do that.

I dunno. Writing short and scintillating and like a sybil is tough stuff! I’ve come near to writing an entire prequel while trying to write the dratted prologue. One intended, concise, sparkling paragraph kept turning into pages and pages of unnecessary detail. Writing short is easier in poetry where you expect to sweat blood over every word. What if I wrote it in blank verse then? KISS — Keeping It Simple, Sweetie. Then taking the line breaks out would… No, it didn’t. It just kept getting longer. And writing a book in blank verse is just not what I wanted to do.

At last, one night several days ago at bedtime, looking for a book to read myself to sleep, I came across Mike Resnick’s Santiago on my bookshelves. Its orange cover glowed temptingly at me. Without wondering why a color I normally dislike looked so alluring, I headed for bed with it and a cup of hot cocoa.

Resnick is an excellent writer. I always liked his writing, but as I’ve learned more about technique, now I can see more about why much of his work that I read before seemed so good (in spite of his female characters usually being either non-entities or bitches). The surprise was that three pages into it I was out of bed again and pacing the floor, muttering to myself. Resnick had done it in his prologue; he had accomplished what I was finding so impossible in my own prologue — a back story/stage setting in brief and with sizzle.

I read it over and over trying to see how he’d done it. Now I’m trying to do something equally as compelling — which perhaps is not so easy when you’re writing about faery kittens and other faery gentry as it might be when writing about bounty hunters and legendary giants on the galactic frontier. Or maybe it is, and I just haven’t gotten it yet.

I’m still working on the beginning of the beginning, but I have hope and a few short paragraphs of a start. It sings to me. It sounds, I hope, like the myth it is supposed to become. My Megan Granddaughter said, “Wow!”

But, you know, even with all this I’m completely delighted to be co-writing a book (or a series) with Marzipan. If you haven’t already you might want to check out her Facebook page though she actually has more followers than this blog does — and gets a lot more comments. She is also much more cute and fluffy than I, but she is a cat and that is only to be expected. I was going to put a photo of her here, but there are lots of both the virtual and the earthly photos of her on Facebook and her own web pages. Happy Tuesday!

When a Typo Becomes a Word

Several people I know like to play with words. Mostly, I prefer to play Hunt The Word, looking for exactly the right word with all the right nuances. But sometimes it seems like there isn’t one in English — or at least it isn’t readily to be found in dictionaries or in the thesaurus. And sometimes there are typos that look like a word, but aren’t in the dictionary. In the space between these two frustrations, new words may be born.

I’m writing a book. Some of the people in the book are part human, part faery. After months of trying to think of a name for this sort-of-species, a typo burst on the scene and it was sounded right. In an instant message, someone typoed “humna” instead of “human”. It was just right — almost human, but not quite. So I began using the word in my story.

Then I had a thought. What if “humna” already was a word, perhaps commonly used in another language? And what if it meant something entirely inappropriate? Scary idea! So, of course, I googled “humna”. At first, I didn’t find much useful, but then in the Urban Dictionary I came across this:   (n.) A person who is extremely annoying but lovable as well. Usually Humnas are very unique and odd. They tend to have large eyes and crazy laughs. Humna’s are far from normal and aren’t always well liked. It takes a special type of person to understand a Humna, but in the end they make for good company. A Humna is very entertaining and once you get to know a Humna you can’t help but to fall in love.

Unfortunately, they didn’t give the source of the word, but it will do just fine.

I blame the characterization of “extremely annoying” on the general human tendency to be irritated by anything they don’t understand. And “wild laughter” would have been more appropriate than “crazy laugh” — but it’s all a matter of personal perception of and reaction to the fae.

Wouldn’t it be funny if my book became popular and “humna” eventually crept into the language as a half human/half faery? Or at least, half-faerylike?

Here is a photo of one of our humnas — Marzipan’s Herself, Ceilear. I am undecided about the ears. Should they be human ears or… ? I have sort of caracal ears in mind for everyone, both humna and the chat sith dos, with tufts like caracal ears do have. (You can google many excellent photos of caracal and their marvelous ears.) The ears in the photo still need a lot of work. The chat sith dos will have the best caracal ears I can manage, but what do you think about the humna? Yea or nay?

 Ceilear