I’m So Very Lucky

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Gladhval with Mist on the Water
Early Morning, Scotland, 1969

Lucky. Fortunate. Blest.

I just read a blog by Vivienne Tuffnell on The Loss of Our Youthful Dreams, which was very thought-provoking. It made me try to remember what my own early goals and ambitions were and how they had all worked out. At first, it seemed just jumble of random things happening, of starting and not finishing, with a lot of wandering around doing things that seemed sometimes surprising but often irrelevant to anything important.

The earliest plan I had for my life, at the age of two, was wanting to be “a gran’ma and a doctor.” The reason I remember this is that everyone thought it was such a strange notion — in those days it was expected that little girls all wanted to be a mommy. People liked to remind me of this and laugh all the way into my teens. I’ll come back to this later.

Sometime in primary school, I felt I also wanted to be a poet (who illustrated her own poems) and to have six children and to be a doctor. Sometime in high school, I was clear that I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books — and I wanted to be a doctor, but was beginning to worry about the medical bit. I had realized that what doctors actually did wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So I thought about nursing… and a week in the hospital showed me that this wasn’t it either. Also in high school, I accidentally became convinced that I’d never be a “good enough” artist and that the kind of books I’d liked weren’t really proper children’s books at all. So the children’s books were out too.

By the time I became a freshman in college, it seemed like being a psychologist might be the right thing, so I took classes in the subject. Back then, sixty years ago, psychology was all about behaviorism and Skinner boxes and nothing to do (it seemed to me) with real people. As for consciousness — there was No. Such. Thing.

At the end of my second year in college, I threw it all up in the air, got married, moved onto a boat, got shipwrecked, had a baby, bought a bigger boat with my husband, repaired, painted, and polished it up and sold it, and we went off to Great Britain to buy a sailing boat to go cruising. Around the world, perhaps. We didn’t find the boat we wanted in Wales, England, or Scotland so we boarded a ferry to Norway. In Oslo, we found exactly what we wanted. Almost. The entire first third of it was rotten so we decided to become serious boat builders in the west of Norway for several years. As we headed toward Romsdalen, we grounded our Gladhval in calm water and had our first relatively gentle but alarming taste of being nearly shipwrecked. In Romsdalen, we worked hard doing the heavy labor of boat building for a few years. When we reached a point where the hull was sound and tight, we launched her and headed south to Stavanger. On the way we had another near-shipwreck on Christmas Eve. There are Norwegians who are really kind and helpful. In Stavanger we spent an icy winter and then we sailed to Scotland, with major engine problems on the way, and worked on the boat some more. In Scotland, we were once again we were grounded and almost wrecked, following which we were caught in a hurricane and rescued by the Royal Navy. Scots are kind and helpful too.

This sounds silly, but after several years in Scotland, we realized that we needed to go back to Norway because many of the building materials we still needed were more readily available there. So, we tacked bits canvas over the most open places in the deck, and headed back to Norway in November during the equinoctial storm. Rough trip, but we made it. Arrived inside the skerries to find it so calm in the fjord that every star was reflected in the water. This seemed a good omen. In fact, just arriving at all seemed a very good omen!

We were going north, perhaps back to the original boatyard — I don’t remember now. Nearly got shipwrecked again — this time in very rough, scary waters with big rocks sticking up out of them. So we turned around and headed south toward Bergen. I’m not sure of our exact itinerary throughout these years, but I do remember the various groundings and near shipwrecks very well — along with the bright sparkling wave on sunny days, the astoundingly bright stars on clear nights, and even occasional auroras. We survived and made it back to Bergen, where I decided I really wanted to go back to Scotland (heart’s home). My son, Jon, and I left. Jeff, my ex-husband, still has Gladhval. I missed out on the eventual trip to the Caribbean, but I didn’t really mind that.

Then there were the years in Scotland where I applied my boat-building and painting skills to interior and exterior house painting and decorating. Then another wedding, this time to a “mad Scot” — Neil — and a new career in antiques and antiquarian books. First, we sold them in flea markets, then we exported them to Canada, and then we moved and imported Scottish things to California. All of these years, from the time I left school, may have seemed like a total distraction, but I learned some very useful things:

1) I was a lot stronger than I had thought. I endured. Yes, I even persisted.
2) I could learn to do almost anything if I was patient and willing to study and practice for as long as it took.
3) While I wasn’t particularly paying attention, I was growing up, accumulating a lot of life experience, and becoming myself. I discovered that I could make changes, could learn new things, however unlikely, and could take risks and survive.
4) That when you got in trouble, if you asked for help you often got it. Most people were naturally kind and helpful.
5) I was older and perhaps a bit wiser and certainly a lot more adaptable. People sometimes realized that I knew things.

These were important qualifications for my Real Career, which was not really antiques and old books.

I went back to college part time — psychology, as a study, had radically changed. Jung! Rogers! Real people issues! Um… even a parapsychology class where I met people who taught me tarot (outside of class) and was introduced to many things I could see were important and valid. Exciting! Maybe I could be a counselor or something. Someone took me to a Spiritualist church, and one of the mediums told me I was a healer. I knew that — had known since I was two — but didn’t everyone always do healing? Turned out that they didn’t. How amazing! So, in my kitchen, I showed a couple of neighbors how to do basic hands-on healing. The two became six, the next time around. Teaching teaches us faster. The friend who had taught me to read tarot moved away and sent all her clients to me, so I did readings and teaching in the back of our antique store.

In my early forties, I was standing in field under a full moon performing a wedding ceremony for a hopeful young couple. In the middle of this, I suddenly realized that “a grandmother and a doctor” really meant a “wise woman and a healer” and what I was doing at that moment was exactly a part of that. I thought that was all finally settled, but it wasn’t.

Eileen, a massage therapist and healer from London was travelling through San Diego. In a grocery store, she asked the clerk if she knew of a good psychic reader. The clerk didn’t, but the customer behind Eileen said, “I know just the right person!” and gave her my phone number. After her session, Eileen asked, “Would you be interested in coming to London and Cornwall to teach and do readings?”

Would I?

Eileen went back home and made arrangements. I bought tickets and went for six weeks — time to teach enough to pay for my tickets. And then I went home, having arranged for me to come back in three months. That was the beginning of my tick-tock travels over the Atlantic. People started wanting me to do classes and reading in other places, and finally in Bath on Beltaine, someone asked what it would take to get me to actually move there. I muttered that I was thinking about moving back to Scotland. But they said, “Bath!” and repeated their question. It was about three in the morning after our celebrations and I was heading back to San Diego the next day. I mumbled that I supposed I’d need somewhere to live and somewhere to teach. I was to come back anyway (tick-tock) around Midsummer. They said they would have places waiting for me to live and work. And they did, so I stayed and tock-ticked in the other direction after that. And started travelling once in a while up to Scotland, just because I loved it.

And about that time, a student showed a publisher friend of hers the notes that I gave to the class and told him that he should get me to write a book on meditation. He did, I did — Moon Over Water — and then I did a second on imagery and inner journeys, Sun Over Mountain.

Then I reversed that situation as well, moving back Scotland, traveling to England and Cornwall — and to California. Scotland is my own magical homeland. I thought I was settled forever. I liked traveling and my cats didn’t mind it too much. We even went camping together. Then I got sick.

Nearly died of pneumonia; couldn’t go back to work for months. I began to feel as if I’d never be really well again. Every doctor and every healer I knew told me that staying in the good Scottish rain would kill me the next winter. That was August, and by December I was beginning to see that they were right. On the 12th of December the cats and I traveled — Arrochar to London to Los Angeles to the desert of Borrego Springs.

As it happened, I didn’t do well in the desert — seemed like I was going to dry, crack, and crumble into dust. All those years in rainy, cold countries hadn’t made me ready for this. The cats and I moved up into the mountains, where there was a bit more water in the air. From there, I drove to San Diego once in a while to teach. Unfortunately, even occasional teaching was too much. Couldn’t teach, couldn’t do healing or counseling; made myself sick again every time I tried. Wasn’t getting much better — in fact all of my energy seemed to be needed just to stop getting worse. It felt like my path had gone over a cliff and me with it.

Just about then, on my 60th birthday, Brian Froud asked me to write the book for the Faeries’ Oracle. I could do that — stay home, write some every day, and rest as needed. This was my third book, and it sold much more than I expected. It took a while, but when the “advance” finally came, I moved to Washington State, bought a bit of forest, and my wild son gradually built a home for me on it. I still wasn’t settled, though I had hoped I was. But after some to-ing and fro-ing, I may be settled now in the middle of three acres of forest with a nearby super-neighbor and caregivers, near Port Townsend. Port Townsend is filled with artists and writers, sculptors and photographers, yoga teachers, tarot readers, craftspeople — witches and elves and gnomes commonly walk the streets. At 79 I rather hope to be settled just where I am — it feels like home. And I can write what I most want to — which tonight is this blog.

What else am I writing? Another oracle for starters. And a book (or five) about tufted faery cats and humna — half human, half faery people. I’ve even found a way to do the illustrations — with help.

Is it for children? Well, yes — and for their parents. And teen-agers and grandparents. And people trying to find a way to live together in a world where so many of us have become strangers and refugees. I’ve gotten ambitious, you see. So I may have accidentally (if you believe in accidents) become a wise woman in a forest, a grandmother, and a writer-illustrator-poet for children and others.

It now appears that all of this time I’ve been working back and forth through my ambitions, often without even realizing that they were ambitions instead of happenstance. I may get there yet. I’m also taking classes in writing — you always need to be trying to get better at things or they get boring. And I keep thinking about teaching a class in using the tarot to help write a book or story. You know, plots and character development are a lot like reality — if you believe in reality.

Tonight I just happened onto a video about someone doing his own version of one of the things I used to do in Scotland. I’d love to go make that trip, if it were possible. Who knows what may yet happen or what paths might open? (I was going to link to it here, but lost it. If I find it again, I’ll put it in the comments.

Tell me, please, what did you want to be when you grew up? And where do you think you might be on the path to getting there?

Faery Gifts, Faery Rings

Once upon a time I made a Journey to the Isle of Iona in Scotland. In fact I made a lot of trips there because Iona is one of my heart’s homes. But this journey was special, though short, partly because it was a particularly Interesting Time in my life and partly because it seemed improbable that I’d ever get to go back to Iona again. So, it seemed that I needed something I could carry with me for a memento, though I’m in no danger of forgetting the sacred isle.

While there I looked at all the pebbles on the beaches (well, nearly all). None felt right. The summer flowers were considered and some seeds falling from the tiny purple ones on the nunnery wall were gathered to plant at home, but that wasn’t it either. After looking in all the gift shops at everything, the right choice seemed to be a ring — a silver Celtic ring with endless knotwork on it. Good symbolism. It was a typical touristy bit of jewelry, nothing special, inexpensive, but it breathed “Iona…” And it fit. I was so pleased to have found it! Goal achieved!

I wore the ring as I left the island. Ferry to Mull, bus to Craignure, ferry to Oban… and then rebellion set in. No more public transport for now! I wanted to savor the back country roads on the way back to town. So, I walked up the hill and out on the back road from Oban, a light pack with just a change of clothes on my back, some fruit and water, and a heavy heart. I’d driven it before but I wanted to walk it this time. There were plenty of back roads to get me to Balloch at the foot of Loch Lomand and then back to Glasgow by bus through all the industrial and crowded area. I’d decided to accept rides if offered and to hitchhike when it got late in the long summer day, but to walk as much as possible while still getting back on time.

Walking felt good. Resting when needed and munching apples bought in Oban, I made my way along single track roads peacefully and happily. This part of Scotland has an abundance of ancient stones and monuments — cairns, standing stones, many and varied stone circles. My route took me past a small circle that I’d never seen before. These stones were smallish and low in the grass, the circle not more than nine feet or so across, and not very visible from the road unless one happened to be walking slowly and looking at everything. It seemed to be radiating a strong call to come closer, to linger in the circle for a while. I don’t turn down enticements like that. Over the knee-high drystone wall I went, and stopped just outside the circle, waiting until certain that I was truly welcome into the center.

At last, sitting in the circle’s center I began to feel a subtle pressure to do something. There was, without words, a request — not for something for the Powers of the circle, but to do something that would be helpful to me. I sat and listened meditatively. Reluctantly, but bit by bit, I got it that it would be appropriate and healing for me to put all my past, especially including my time on Iona, into my ring — and bury it in the center of the circle, a small place of power in the network of light that runs from circles to megaliths, to cairns, to standing stones, to whatever else has been rooted in Earthmother with healing intentions.

I. Did. Not. Want. To. Do. This. No way!

Just leaving without gifting anything to the circle seemed quite impossible. Nothing else I had seemed really acceptable. There were disgraceful tears and pleadings. Now I am older and far more experienced, but then, in my forties, I hadn’t fully learned that the only sacrifice that matters is oneself, from the heart. It wasn’t about the ring; it was about me — the ring was only a holder of energy — and I didn’t know that. Finally, I let myself be aware of how much love there was in this asking. It felt unbounded. This was all intended to help me, to strengthen me.

I needed for the ring to be there, just there and nowhere else. Not on my finger but in the earth. I can’t say that I believed this or that it made any sense, but it felt right so I dug a small hole at the center of hard-packed earth of the circle. It wasn’t very deep, but there was nothing around to use to help in digging. It was only a couple of inches down. With a trickle of tears, the ring went into the earth from which it had once come, was covered over, and the earth tamped well down above it so the digging left no mark. Left to my own devices I’d probably have piled a cairn of large stones over it, but that was gently refused. Someone smiled at the idea, but I wasn’t in an appreciative nor grateful mood.

Back on the road, I turned back once to say a small and wordless prayer for what I’d done to be right. It felt like the light had gone out of the day, though the sun still shone. I’d had enough. It was easy to walk to the nearest main road and hitch a lift to Balloch. There I had a fish and chips supper while looking out over Loch Lomand. Walking toward the nearest bus stop to catch the bus to Glasgow, the sun was in my eyes. I almost ignored the glitter of something in the gutter, but the second or third time it sparkled, I became curious and stepped into the street to fish it out of the mud. Wiping off the mud, I stood there transfixed. Silver gleamed and there in my grubby hand was a muddy silver ring — out of the earth and cobblestones of the road.

The muddy ring was the right size and slid easily onto my finger, but the design was different from the Iona ring. Instead of the typical Celtic pattern of endless knots, this ring had stars and moons raised from a dark bed, like a night sky. I had a vague thought of turning it in at the local police station, but though it had gone on so easily it wouldn’t come off my finger. This woke me up out of my shocked daze enough to realize that this ring was for me. With stars and moons in the night sky — something that connects all the sacred spaces of the world, wherever we may be. (Now, of course, I’m seeing that as a symbol of non-local consciousness as well as of faery, but then I only saw the faery sky.)

Some years after receiving the ring but many years ago now, I sat in a barrow in England a few miles from Bath. Sitting there, wearing my faery ring, I made an inner journey to see what was wanted of me at that time. Instead of being asked for things, I was shown gifts. One of them came to me then, but others were in reserve for later. One of the “later on” gifts was a small ginger cat, who was described as “the firecat”. The sword I was given then was placed in my spine, the hilt across the hips. Invisible. Mysterious. Strengthening. The cat stayed asleep in a small curl in a niche in the barrow wall.

Then, years later I learned about Richard’s ring. I was telling the story of my ring on Facebook and Richard, a real life friend as well as a Facebook friend, said, “You won’t believe this… Oh, I guess you will. I think I have a ring just like that.” He took a photo and posted it on Facebook. And, yes, it’s like mine. Of course, I asked him how he got it. I’d never seen another one anywhere. Now I wonder how many people have them and how they happened to get them?

It seems that he was in college at the time, having a difficult time figuring out where he was going in life and why. Especially in question was his spiritual path. One day he was lying on his back on the grass in the sunshine. He felt something under his back, poking at him. When he looked to see what it was, it was the silver ring, deep in the grass. It, too, was a gift from EarthMother, and of course, it fit him perfectly. The same stars and moons on the night sky. Earthmother and the fae. This was the message he needed about his spiritual path.

The word “pagan” comes from a Greek word meaning “arising from the Earth” — but you knew that, didn’t you?

At that time, I’d just recently found my ring among some old jewelry that had been packed away for several years — this was why I was writing about it and thinking about what it meant to me now. Richard hadn’t been wearing his either at that point. We both wondered, really, what were we thinking? We wanted to have them on all of the time. I’ve been wearing mine since.

Today, sitting here writing, my miniature ginger cat, Marzipan, is on my knee. She watches me type, her eyes wise and wide and deep — like moons. Marzipan was born to be a star. Everyone who meets her knows that she is a natural star, a tiny, fiery cat of creativity and wisdom and mischief. Right now, she is sitting on my knee, but sometimes when I’m typing, she puts one paw on my hand. It’s probably not a co-incidence that she usually puts it right on my faery ring of moons and stars, is it?

Early Morning LabyrinthineTravels

Before I begin I must mention that I’m going to insert a photo in this before I post it. WordPress was doing something silly with photos e-mailed to subscribers, and this is a test to see if that is fixed. If you wind up with a lot of strange babble (code) after the next paragraph, I invite you to read the real post on the website at http://www.jesalog.com with a proper photo.Thank you!

I am having the most delightful morning and it has barely begun. Dutifully checking my e-mail first thing, it began with a message from SecondLife saying that my partner-in-landscaping had returned a couple of building blocks (prims) to me, so I went in to see what he was up to. He had built a small island—white sand, rock, palm trees—that was just perfectly suited to the purpose we’d been discussing. It was a delightful surprise for first thing in the morning. I stood there on our island and watched the two ships he’d also built cross paths behind the new island, which is so perfect that I cannot imagine that it hasn’t always been there waiting for the fog to lift so we could see it.

That reminded me that I’d promised to look for a photo of the isle of Iona that we could use to build another island. So off I went on the wings of Google Search to look for photos of my beloved Iona and one of the first things I saw was a large photo of a labyrinth on Iona. How astounding! I just sat and looked at it. There was never a labyrinth on Iona in all the years I visited there and roamed all over the tiny isle.

Labyrinths are special. I’ve never been to one without having a truly exceptional and personally memorable experience. And I’ve never been to one without a friend beside me.

The labyrinth in Iona—what a brilliant thing someone has done! I immediately copied the photo and made it my wallpaper so I can gaze upon it for refreshment during the day. Then I looked up the source of the photo, and found Waymarkers, a lovely blog which was not only rewarding reading, but which had another photo of a labyrinth, this one on Whidbey Island. I didn’t know there was a labyrinth on Whidbey either. Now I do.

Whidbey is just across a small stretch of water from where I live—about a fifteen minute ferry ride. I could actually go to Whidbey! So then I discovered that the writer of the blog, Mary, lives in Seattle and leads pilgrimages to Iona and to Whidbey Island and other places in the Pacific Northwest. I want to read her book, Waymarkers: Collected Prayers, Poems & Reflections for the Pilgrimage to Iona by Mary A DeJong.

And now I’m remembering that when I was last on Iona with friends, the hotel we were in also had a group of visitors on a pilgrimage from Whidbey Island to Iona—not one of Ms DeJong’s but another. I can probably find out who and see if they are still doing retreats on Whidbey. I’d love to walk a labyrinth again if I can.

Now, here I am, quite early in the morning before breakfast, having been to Isla del Gatos in SecondLife, to a labyrinth on Iona in the Inner Hebrides in the West of Scotland, to another labyrinth on Whidbey Island here in my neighborhood, to looking out of my own windows and seeing flickers of early sunlight among the trees.

You cannot beat a morning like that!

Heart's Home

I’m in the midst of writing a (difficult for me) teaching on grief, and while taking a break, I found this wonderful and relevant essay by James Paris, Sehnsucht, in which he talks about the concept of a deep longing for a lost home or person—possibly even somewhere or someone or something that may not exist or may never have existed. Yet, the sense of longing is deep and abiding.

As I read this I thought first about how this is a form of grief, and also how we can never be happy if we cling so tightly to what is not there that we cannot enjoy what we do have. And I thought about how we reconcile this split or fail to do so, and how much our happiness depends on succeeding in finding a balance in life that works for us.

I know exactly where my “home” is! It is in the magical, misty, and mystical West of Scotland, inhabited by the fae and the Ancient Ones, spirits two-legged and four, winged and finned. It is as far from the modern Scottish Highlands and Islands, filled with tourists, bright sun sparkling on the water, or mountains soaring from the sea, beautiful though that is, as it can be. Another world, you might say.

My Scotland is only found in the almost silent moonlight, the dark and moonless night with the deep roar of a waterfall, the birdsong of the breaking dawn, the mists of the twilight. It can be heard in the sound of distant bagpipes, the lifting tenor melody on the hill, and in the wistful song of the cuckoo. I do love to be in the ordinary (as if it could ever be truly “ordinary”) daytime West of Scotland—and there are always the unpredictable moments and glimpses of that Other, flickers in the corner of the heart’s eyes, and the faint touches of unseen fingers.

I miss it, I long for it with a deep heartache at times. The longing is never far from me. Yet… I’m happy where and as I am. I can’t be in Scotland—the climate was killing me, quite literally. But I found another place with water and mountains, forests and islands, the myriad shades of green, the bright blues and soft grays and the singing notes of the wildflowers. This place I live has a very different magic of its own. It is not, and never will be my Scotland. But I can live here, and I can be happy with the little daily miracles of life in this place. And in my dreams and in the twilight, I can open the portals just a crack and invite my own world into this one.

Someday, I’ll step happily across that boundary and not return, but for now, this world is also a much beloved joy.