On the Nightstand: The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow

When I fantasize about posting regularly to this site, one of the subjects I most frequently consider writing about is the precariously tall stack of books that accumulates regularly on my nightstand.  At any given time, there are usually between three and fifteen books squirreled away there, bustled in on the inspiration of fleeting reading moods.  But every so often, there is one book that I stick to devotedly, dragging it around in my Poppins-esque bag, until it is lamentably dogeared and devoured cover to cover.  These are the books that make me think I should write a post to share them, and this is the kind of book that is good enough to launch a maiden voyage.

I don’t even remember anymore how I first heard about The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow.  I think it was a random recommendation on Amazon, but if any of you fine folks have read and commented on it already, please let me know so I can give you due credit.  And thank you profusely.

Most of the book is a reprint of a diary from the turn of the last century, written by an unusual girl named Opal Whiteley when she was only six or seven years old.  Anyone with a reverence for the natural world should know this girl.

Opal grew up in a logging community in Oregon, and wrote extensively about her relationship with animals, trees, and the natural elements.  She was remarkably observant and eloquent, and she wrote also about learning special things from her “Angel Mother” and “Angel Father” and how she hears voices in the trees and wind and water.  She also names, or renames, nearly every living thing around her after hilariously erudite and obscure authors, artists, leaders and French landmarks (a bizarre compulsion after my own heart), and almost always comes up with ways to “help” her mother around the house that ultimately get her spanked or put in time out under the bed.  Her expressions, interests (to “go on explores”) and interactions with the natural world remind me a little of my own childhood experiences (my first diary entry at age seven, written in numeric code, was also about little wild animals I was trying to rescue), but there is something extra ghostly and mystical about Opal.  Benjamin Hoff’s touching biography that prefaces the diary honors this spirit as well.  I loved how I started to look at my own surroundings with Opal’s eyes while reading this, and it helped me to recapture some of the wonderment I experience when I feel most in touch with nature.  There is heartbreak in this story as well, and I recommend trying to pick up the 1994 edition if you can find it because the afterword is extremely moving and provides a little more framework for Opal herself.

Please read this book, and dedicate some moments to Opal, her spirits, and “the man who wears grey neckties and is kind to mice.”

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I have thinks these potatoes growing here did have knowings of star-songs.  I have kept watch in the field at night, and I have seen the stars look kindness down upon them.  And I have walked between the rows of potatoes, and I have watched the star-gleams on their leaves.  And I have heard the wind ask of them the star-songs the star-gleams did tell in shadows on their leaves.  And as the wind did go walking in the field talking to the earth-voices there, I did follow her down the rows.  I did have feels of her presence near.

I don’t think I’ll print more tonight.  I printed this sitting on the wood-box, where the mamma put me after she spanked me, after I got home with the milk.  Now I think I shall go out the bedroom window and talk to the stars.  They always smile so friendly.

This is a very wonderful world to live in.

–Opal Whiteley (1897-1992)

With Much Love,
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Messengers

by Anne Siems

Celebrating a Summer of Fire

What a beautiful weekend!  Yesterday there were so many summer events on the docket that it was hard to know what to do with oneself.  I felt a little useless in the morning, still full after our sushi overdose date Friday night.  After the boy went to work at the studio, my friend Bex and I went out for a stroll about town and visited the closest block party.  The crowd was a bit overwhelming, but the bands were good, and we indulged in some brightly colored snow cones that dyed our tongues and made us feel childlike and giddy.  We walked home arm-in-arm as the afternoon sun was growing in intensity.

After Bex headed for home, the boy and I biked down to the full moon puppet show across the bridge, led by a spectacularly wide rainbow that generously appeared despite the lack of any rain.  This month’s festivities were being held outside in the middle of the street, with a stage in front of one of the houses, chairs, blankets and strings of lights draped over the facing lawns, a truck with screen printers parked down the line next to the blacksmith’s anvil, the band on the corner, and the sheep roasting over giant flames signaling the entrance with flare.  There was a bit of theatrics as some industrious young gents worked to lasso a rope over the nearest utility pole so they could string up a giant fabric and metal framework moon over the street lamp.  Their efforts were only partially successful, but unimpressive anyway next to the true full moon that rose just beside its makeshift impersonator.

The children were frolicking about with water balloons, bubbles, ice pops and face paint, all gleefully rolling on the ground in harmony despite the fact that many of them did not speak any shared languages.  It was quite adorable.  We stood around and chatted with friends while Rambo spun northern soul records, waiting for the sheep to be done and the show to begin.  Once the meat was juicy and crispy, everyone queued up for tacos and the entertainment got fully underway.  As the darkness fell further, the hoots and howls from the audience grew rowdier, fireworks were catapulted into the sky, and we all delighted in the bewildered expressions of passing motorists as they slowed and stared at the tattooed, pierced and barefooted congregation, the hunks of glistening meat, and scores of mounted skulls flickering under the carefully orchestrated fireballs shooting from the gas line rigging above the spit.

Eventually the show concluded (on a very optimistic and poignant note!) and we went on our way enjoying the dusk clouds and a bike ride in the moonlight.  We stopped for bubble tea, then spent a few sweat-soaked hours dancing in Dinkytown before grabbing some local pizza with preposterous toppings and finally dozing off around 4 am.

After all the excitement of Saturday, today was a relatively quiet, contemplative sort of day, with contented enjoyment of corn, portabellas, tomatoes and eggplant to celebrate the first fruits of our garden, grilled apricots with ginger syrup and angelfood cake, more bubble tea, and a lot of Griffin & Sabine.  (If you haven’t already read this series by Nick Bantock, I highly recommend it.  It has everything: art, Jung, alchemy, parallel universes, world travel, cryptozoology, timeless expressions of desire, and the thrill of reading other people’s mail.)

Now it’s time to curl up with a book and the boy until the next bout of dreaming carries us to tomorrow, when the boy starts his new job, and I (hopefully) return to mine with a bit more pluck, calm, optimism and courage.

I hope everyone is doing well, and I encourage you all to look for some rowdy independent entertainment in your hometown this week.  Ideally some that includes a lot of fire.

All the best,
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Portable Fortitude!

I recently ordered a deck of “Portable Fortitude” cards by Corina Dross after hearing them described on one of my favorite pagan podcasts, New World Witchery.

The deck arrived today and I could not be more pleased!  I’m so excited and torn between that feeling of wanting to get one for everyone I know and wanting to keep them all to myself.  The prints are clean and crisp, the cards sharp and smooth, the images haunting, spirited, tirelessly honest and funny.  I was especially pleased to see my heroine Hypatia as the Queen of Spades (did you hear the discussion of her on Standing Stone and Garden Gate?? Wee!), and the author of my most beloved book, Virginia Woolf, as the King (Yes, KING!) of Clubs.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.

I’ve picked out a few of my favorites to spotlight below, but I’m enamored by them all.  I look forward to seeing her other artwork and continuing to support independent artists… when I can afford it!

In a burst of good luck today, I also got a chance to talk to the heretofore astoundingly quiet interoffice mail delivery guy who startles me every other day with sudden envelopes over my shoulder when I am not paying attention.  I discovered with perhaps slightly-too-unbridled glee that he is a kindred spirit as suspected, and a friendly conversationalist once the barrier is broken.  He is leaving me to go to grad school for library sciences (twin!), and I even worked up the nerve to ask him about his work back in the day on Mystery Science Theater 3000, that tremendously strange staple of my youth.  Hooray for wholly innocuous office crush!

May the fortitude be with you!

Love,
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The Stolen Child

On the subject of changelings, I read a lovely novel about changelings not so long ago, that I really ought to recommend. It’s called “The Stolen Child” by Keith Donohue.  If you are remotely drawn to the fairy tale genre geared towards adults, this is a thought-provoking and colorful read.

But now for your instant reading gratification, here is a rather somber poem, from the compassionate changeling himself:

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

– W. B. Yeats

With a faery, hand in hand,
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P.S.  A painting entitled “Changeling 2” – an unsettling image of a young girl’s glowing face – won the London National Gallery’s BP Portrait Award in 2009.  I’m sensing a comeback.

A wedding, and the search for something once lost

This weekend after celebration of my loving one’s birthday, which included him working all day at the studio while I cleaned the house, but then a late, light Thai dinner and drinks, hot dice and dancing, in the morning we trucked a couple of hours east for one of the most singularly gorgeous weddings I have ever attended.

The event was held on eight acres of land belonging to the bride’s family, and at this time of year the hills were rolling green, the grasses golden, the crimson sumac turning, and the milkweed bursting in white puffs between the trees.  There was a giant tent for eating and dancing, dripping with lights under enormous sheer red drapes and sky-high cascades of paper globe lamps, a trampoline and Lego loggia for the little ones, and camping areas for the guests on either side.  All those in attendance were wearing black and white, with the exception of the godfather, who presided over the service sporting a red scarf.  The gray clouds which had been rumbling overhead all morning respectfully swept away leaving nothing but blue skies and warm sunshine behind.

At the ring of a bell, we all processed down a trail through the woods to a clearing in the meadow set with chairs on either side of a red carpet.  The bell rang again, and we spotted the groom – in a fire engine red suit, mind you – making his way through the woods to the front of the congregation… on a bicycle!  (He rode in a few supplemental circles to the cheers and hollers of the crowd before coming to a stop at the altar.)  And after the twin daughter flower girls, up the aisle appeared the bride – in a jaw-dropping hot red gown with a giant red flower and feathers in her hair, the blazing glory of the end of summer and the height of a fruitful harvest.

It was visually almost overwhelmingly beautiful, and such a sincere, generous, loving, and joyful service that there was not a dry eye or a solemn expression to be found by the end.  I was so proud when they asked my LO to bring up the rings he had made to present them to the bride and groom as part of the ceremony.  At the sign of the kiss, the festivities began in full.

As darkness fell, the cold rushed in.  My LO approached me with a panicked expression.  He had lost his keys somewhere among the now shadowy trees.  But, not to be daunted on such a lovely day, I quickly pulled from my crafty arsenal the little charm to St. Anthony I learned thanks to the folks at NWW.  I recited it for him, then we slowly wandered into the wood, whispering the words under our breath all the way:

Tony, Tony, look around
Help us find what can’t be found

Trying to make my voice as soothing as possible to ease the anxiety welling up in my LO, I confidently escorted him through the trees until at last the keys were found.  I silently thanked loyal Tony and the Powers That Be, and enjoyed the relatively new feeling of unwavering belief and a record of success.

Being an occasionally absentminded arrow, I have had a tendency to misplace.  In the two months I have known this charm, it has never failed to impress me with its quick efficacy.  On the first go, I recovered a lost camera battery that had been sought in vain for months.  The charm compelled me to look in a completely illogical location, and I found the fool thing hidden under a dusty jewelry box, wedged in by a discarded paintbrush, hidden behind a stack of books.

So, if you’re ever in need of a little help in finding something lost, I encourage you to make use of this little rune, and hope you enjoy the subtle nudges that lead you in the right direction.

Love,
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