Always a Trail to Follow

Here is a tiny story-thing I wrote last year on this day:

In the days when the people had begun to keep their lives in great boxes, living less and less on the land, a girl was born who could read the scripts and runes in the landscapes.

When a frog leaped into the pond with a startled “Eeep!” the ripples and circles in the surface of the pond read, “Splash!” of course, but also something about the day being green, the waters cool on the gills, and the polliwogs growing hale and hearty.

In a branch burrowed and tunneled by bark beetles, she could read the insect-runes: “Chronicle of the Year of Our Lady Wingshine: We are preparing for another winter. Tunnels and fortifications are underway and a healthy grub population is thriving. No woodpeckers spotted in three cycles.”

The branches on the trees crossed and curled to make whole novels of story, revealing the secret lives of owl and warbler, the gossip of squirrels, and the wisdom of ancient oaks.

Across a vast tangerine sunset, she read the letters and lines created by flocks of migrating geese and calling swans: “When your heart has two homes, you will always be a wanderer.”

And much more subtle, but as real as the words in water or bark or sky, the musky tang of a fox in the undergrowth wove through the lines and curls of autumn grasses, which she read as, “There is always a trail to follow, if you will give your heart to the moment.”

Gratitude List:
1. Chicken Pot Pie for supper. Jon’s a great cook!
2. One of my students, who is an artist, talks about how she sees beauty in every person. Yes.
3. Settling into the darkness of winter. It’s not easy for me. I have to talk myself through it every year. I love the womb of dark. I love the comforting raven’s wings about me. Still, I feel as though I am losing time. I want to sleep and eat and sit and dream. I am finding my winter rhythm. Don’t ask too much of me right now.
4. Mist in the morning over the bridge. We all imagined where we wanted to be when we came through the mist on the other side of the bridge. We were still in Columbia, but that’s okay. Sometime I really do want to come through the mist into Avalon or Hogwarts or Iceland.
5. The dreamtime. My brain begins to gather dreams in its cobwebs in these long nights. There was snow in last night’s dream.

May we walk in Beauty!

Pathways to the Sun

Today’s Prompt is to write a “Shine” Poem.  I have been thinking about writing this short story about the tree shadows that grab my attention.

Once was a girl fell in love with the Sun.
Loved his shine, she did. Loved his flash and glory.
Once was a girl tried to reach her lover in his sky.
Tried to find the twisting pathway that led to her love.
Tried to find a way to get his attention.
She learned how to shine herownself, she did.
She shined all day long and all night
’til her own light was fading, she shone so.

And the people. The people, they loved her.
They loved her with fierceness for all her shining.
They loved her with tenderness for her fading.
‘Cause she passed that shine around,
’cause she was not afraid to show her longing,
’cause she wept and laughed at her own fading.

Came a day when she was old and worn and faded.
She walked in her garden under her Sun,
and she smiled for her love and she smiled for her longing.
She smiled for her long days of wisdom.
She smiled for her long nights of folly.
Saw a tree, tall and reaching its arms upward,
right into sunlight, basking in the tender arms of the Sun.

Her heart, like a shadow, almost stopped its beating.
She leaned into light, like the tree, arms raised upward.
She leaned into sunlight, she rested on sunbeams,
felt his hands on her face, his arms ’round her shoulders.
And in that moment she saw them, the pathways of shadow
that lead to her lover. Never looked backward.
No, she never looked backward, but followed the shadows
outward and upward, into the arms of the Sun.

Gratitude List:
1. Doors opening. Opening Doors. Reframing the question: Instead of “How do we seek progress? Asking “How do we open doors for change?”
2. The wise people who help to reframe the questions.
3. Family times.
4. My father’s bluebirds
5. Hard conversations, especially when they bring clarity.

May we walk in Beauty!

A Thousand Shades of Blue

The Hans Herr House, from a couple years ago. Blue sky.

This is the first of two posts today.

Today’s prompt is to write a preface poem.

To write a poem is to shapeshift,
to become spider, who anchors her line
upon a slender twig high in the sycamore,
then casts herself forth upon air
to float earthward, supported only
by the capricious air and the line
of her own making, trusting to its strength,
trusting that her web will travel from Point A
to Point B in the most efficient line possible.

I wrote this last year on this day, on my Facebook page. Let’s keep looking for those doors. And I think about that line I wrote in the poem yesterday about God being a Mother who opens our doors. She helps us find the new ones, too.

“This morning, I feel as though a door has opened wide within me. It’s like those dreams, where I am wandering through Grandma’s old Victorian house, and opening doors I never noticed before, and finding rooms I have never seen. Suddenly, in a dark inner corner that I thought led to a dead end, I have found a new door, cobweb-covered and enshadowed, with deep green paint beneath the dust. And behind the door, a thousand shades of blue.

“Walk through the shadows to find the next Yes.

“Of course, this doesn’t change the world. But it does en-courage me to step forward. Let’s all take hands as we find our new doors, our new steps forward into darkness and light.”

Gratitude List:
1. La Luna
2. Los gatos
3. Pumpkin pie and pumpkin roll
4. My sweet snuggly kiddos
5. Teaching Nate to knit–he’s a fast learner

May we walk in Beauty!

That Ancient Song

“Our indigenous voice is that ancient song which emanates from our gratitude. It knows no such construct as comparison or exclusion because it is devotional. It sings to keep the stars in the sky and the moon rising in its arc across the night. It sings to all the helpful conditions that are enabling our well-being in every given moment and it recognizes itself as an essential note in that great choir of being.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa
“We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all.” —Wangari Maathai
Sometimes we have a strong sense of what our destiny is calling us to do, but we don’t feel quite ready or brave enough to answer the call. We need a push, an intervention, a serendipitous stroke—what you might call “fate bait.”

It’s a person or event that awakens our dormant willpower and draws us inexorably toward our necessary destiny; it’s a thunderbolt or siren song or stage whisper that gives us a good excuse to go do what we know we should do.

Do you have any ideas about how to put yourself in the vicinity of your fate bait?”
—Rob Brezsny
“And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn”
—Kofi Awoonor

Gratitude List:
1. Magenta
2. Cerulean
3. Viridian
4. Gold
5. Violet

May we walk in Beauty!

Odin’s Ordeal

To get at the truth,
you have to get down to the roots,
deep down to the roots,
to the water under the roots.

Suspended between all worlds,
you hang in the air
between death and life,
between heaven and earth,
looking down, looking to water,
to the wells of water beneath the tree.
There’s fire too, fire in the tree,
lightning in the branches of the oak.

After your windy ordeal,
nine nights and nine days,
you look down once more
and behold the secret of language.
The words trickle through your fingers,
singing in the waters that surround you.

Tomorrow the Fool encounters Death. I’ll write a death poem for tomorrow. Last year, I tried writing a poem which personified Death, anthropomorphized her. Perhaps I’ll try to do a version of that for tomorrow. Always remember that the ending which Death represents always create spaces for new beginnings.

Gratitude List:
1. The smell of flowers, everywhere.
2. The guard dogwoods are blooming.
3. The lilacs are blooming.
4. It’s warm enough to hang out outside after school.
5. Power naps.

May we walk in Beauty!

Learning Chess


Gratitude List:
1. Playing Chess. I am so bad at it. I think of myself as being fairly intelligent, but I am miserable at chess. I do dumb things. But I am loving playing, and loving being schooled by my ten-year-old.
2. Crawling out from under the rock.
3. Long sleeps.
4. The light will return. The light will return. The light will return. Wednesday at 5:44, to be precise.
5. The Great Horned Owl calling in the bosque.

May we walk in Beauty!


I’m not sure where I am going with this story. I may take more time off. I seem to have shifted out of the voice in which I began it, and it’s becoming tedious to write it without that initial fire. Perhaps its next steps will have to happen during summer vacation.

Deep in the lower ring of the city, where the bustle of the market lasted from early in the morning to late in the evenings, where the fruit and vegetable vendors set up their brightly-colored stalls along the main street out to the gates, where the shops of the bakers and the butchers lined the ancient walls in a rumble-tumble fashion–there where the press of humanity was greatest, in the back of the shop of Bilhah the Baker, there grew up a secret school for women and girls.

While educating females was expressly forbidden by law, many families saw fit to “teach” their daughters to read and write and do simple sums in order that they might help with the family businesses.  As long as no one pushed against the law and tried to send their daughters to school, the spirit of the law could be bent for the good of the family economy.

In recent years, however, the generals had begun to take a firmer hand. King Astra Djin, they whispered secretly amongst themselves, was soft. He wanted easy living, fine wine, gentle and docile women, and lots of gold. His hardest edges were reserved for the collection of taxes, which he raised in greater amounts with each succeeding year.  The generals believed, to a man, that the city-state of Zammarqand needed a heavy-fisted rule. The king could have his cushy life, and the generals would keep him content, fat and happy, while they set about the careful enforcement of law and order in the city.

That Moon!

Gratitude List:
1. That Moon!
2. Starting to get the energy back
3. Those Thai ads about kindness. Ellis has to find a video about random kindness for class, so we were looking at the Thai ads. I had to make myself stop, I was getting too weepy.
4. Music. Today’s soundtrack is Mindy Nolt and Siobhan Miller.
5. This marvelous recliner.

May we walk in Beauty!


They knew instinctively that the scrolls must be kept secret and safe. Gormlek cleared away the rubble of the fallen wall, patched and repaired it, leaving a little doorway that even his granddaughter had to stoop to get through, and covered the door with a wooden cabinet that could be rolled aside for entry, but looked solid and immovable enough to a scanning eye.

In the evenings, when the day’s baking and sales were finished and Gormlek had returned from his day’s work in the Houses of the Dead, the little family would take a scroll from the hidden annex, and read the ancient hi’Stories of the Queens of Zammarqand.

“These sound like the fairy tales that Granny tells me when I visit her in the village!” Leeta told her mother. “There’s the one about the Prince of Karadzu, who came to Zammarqand to seek for the hand of Princess Jinna in marriage, but Jinna did not want to marry him, so she challenged him to a game of chess. If he won, she would marry him, but if she did, he would give her his proud stallion and walk home. That stallion made Princess Jinna the winner of every horse race in the city for years afterward.”

Bilhah’s eyes were bright. “I’ve been thinking that, too, how Granny seems to know these hi’Stories, how her tales are little mirrors of the stories in these parchments. Do you think they’re true, Abba? Or are they just someone’s written-down version of the fairy tales?”

Gormlek carefully studied the parchment at hand, the candle-light flickering over his face. Finally, he said, “Our hi’Story does not begin with the Wolf Kings–I am certain of it–although that is what we boys were taught in school, that the city began when Chinngis Djin settled the river valley. But those hi’Stories always say he conquered the people of the city, so there must have been a city before the Wolf King’s reign. All my life, I have heard the stories of Granny and the others, of a different life, a different city, a different hi’Story. Even the grannies say that their stories are nonsense, little ditties to be told to the children and ignored by everyone else. But now I think that they have been keeping the oldest hi’Stories alive in their tellings.

<More on this part of the story tomorrow>

Nannies and Grannies


Gratitude List:
1. Crows in fields, in trees, in sky, and snow
2. The Children’s Program at church this morning–baby angels tossing their halos into the air, kings wearing their crowns at jaunty angles over their ears, little drummers and shepherds and all
3. Taking a nap at my parents’ house this afternoon–having someone just take care of me
4. Hot chocolate
5. That family of four deer that came down the hill in the bosque, crossed the stream and the road, and went up the bluff and over the ridge.

May we walk in Beauty!

Even kings have grandmothers, and nannies. It might be the grannies and nannies who hold the world together, or who bring it back around to rights when it’s gone off the deep end. Slow and steady, one story at a time.

The Eighth Wolf King, Astra Djin, had three children, the youngest born the same month of the same year as Bilhah the Baker. The two boys, Mussa and Ahmbra, were educated in the traditional military academy where there father and grandfathers had also learned to read and write, to rule, to fight, and to venerate the Djin-Wolf, fiercest of all gods. The middle child, Behna, was a girl, and she was instructed in palace graces and etiquette by her mother and her many governesses. In the late afternoons, when the boys’ schooling was finished, and Behna had completed her palace duties, their nanny would take up her spinning and the children would settle around her like kittens and wait for her to begin spinning a tale.

“Once upon a time,” she would begin, for all good stories begin thus, “the city was ruled by a Wolf-Queen.”

The children would laugh and protest: “Nanny! There’s no such thing as a ruler queen!”

“This is a fairy tale, my darlings. Only a fairy tale,” she would tell them, her eyes glowing in her crinkly smiling face.  “Once upon a time, there was a Wolf-Queen named Rama-Shala-Mehbaz. But the people just called her Queen Rama, or Your Majesty. She was a great ruler and loved by her people. When she was Queen, all the girls in the city went to school, too, just like the boys. And no one in the city ever starved for lack of food, and there were no soldiers in the streets, and there was a great temple in the center of the city to honor the Wolf Mother.”

“Nanny, that’s just wrong,” protested Mussa. “There is only the Djin-Wolf. You must not say Wolf Mother, as though it were another god as great as Djin-Wolf. Even for a story. And even you know that we must have soldiers in the streets to keep the peace. Otherwise the people might fight and kill each other. The people are like children, and they must be treated with harshness and a firm hand.”

“Perhaps,” said Nanny to the boy, whose face was a mass of grey confusion. “Don’t worry, my princeling. This is only a story, and I am a silly old woman. Would you like to hear more? Well, it was said that the Queen would often disappear on nights when the moon was dark. She would walk out of the city, not returning until the first rays of dawn rose over the river, leaving a trail of bare footprints in the dew.

“The legends say that when she reached the riverbank, she would transform into a great wolf, and stand in the darkness, singing the wolf songs until all the wolves in all the hills around the city would meet her there on the riverbank.  One morning, she returned from the river carrying a tiny squirming wolf cub in her arms. She carried it to the palace, and before the day was out, the cub had transformed into a human child, and Queen Rama raised her as a daughter, and she became queen in her turn.  It is said that all the ancient queens were shape-shifters, gift-cubs from the wolves, and that is why the city was so peaceful–they lived as wolves do, caring for the sick and the young and the elderly, looking out for the good of all.”

Mussa’s face was still cloudy. “But it’s only a story, isn’t it, Nanny?”

“Hmmm? A story? Yes, it’s a story, certainly. Now off to bed with you.”

The Secret Ways of Hi’Story


Gratitude List:
1. Help with the tale
2. Feeling better every day
3. Getting work done
4. Crusty bread, toasted and buttered
5. Hot chocolate

May we walk in Beauty!

These stories are becoming something of a family project. I read a few at a time to the children, and then they ask what will happen next, and what bits of the story I will reveal next. Or they make suggestions about how to unpack something in the next bit of story. I don’t quite know where all this is going. Perhaps if they come together into some sort of form, I will edit and revise them and try to publish them some day, but for now, it’s a pleasant thread to follow.

I think I will continue to spell it “hi’story,” to emphasize the story piece of it. Because Chinngis Djin tried to erase the Wolf Queens, the era of the Wolf Queens has become legend, and Story is a crucial part of keeping them alive.

While I have chosen to separate my story from the real Samarkand by changing its name a little, and placing it in something of a fantasy realm, I found the story of the sack of the city by Genghis Khan in 1220 to be rather compelling, and so I have kept him in the parallel. Several sources call him the Blue Wolf, and in one source, he is spelled Chinngis Khan.  At this point in the process, I do not intend to do the careful research necessary to make this an academically accurate historical/cultural novel. I just want to follow the thread of this hi’story, and see where it takes me.

The Secret Ways of Hi’Story

The hi’story of Zammarqand seemed to begin with the coming of Chinngis Djin, the Blue Wolf of the North. In the year 1220, the Blue Wolf and his hordes had ridden down the steppes like a mighty wind, conquering the villages and cities in their path, setting up fierce and brutal warriors to control the lands they overthrew. In the city of Zammarqand and it surrounding villages, the subjugation included an overthrow of hi’story. The great library was burned, the temples torn down, and the sacred groves were uprooted and laid waste. The Wolf Mother shrines that lined the inner walls of the city were simply plastered over, along with the dozens of small shops that were built right into the city walls.

The Wolf-Queen, daughter in a line of a thousand queens before her, was deposed and slain publicly in the market square, her children dragged off as slaves with Chinngis Djin’s southward-surging army, never to be seen in Zammarqand again. The peaceful rule of the mothers was ended, and a new day of military might and harsh rule began.

In the days of Leeta the Storymaker, three hundred years after the coming of the Blue Wolf, the governance of the city had settled into a patriarchal rhythm that had a great deal less surface brutality than it had in the first century following the coming of the Blue Wolf, though its deep reality was one of repression of the city’s daughters, and a near-complete erasure of the city’s hi’story prior to the coming of Chinngis Djin.

But hi’story has a way of making itself found. Images of the tender-eyed Wolf Mother proliferated in secret places in the city, for those who had the eyes to see. Grandmothers faithfully remembered the fairy tales and stories, passing them on to daughters and granddaughters. Young women would dream dreams of a great and watchful She-wolf sitting in the gateway to the city. Travelers would come upon wild groves of trees growing in near-perfect circles. And in the city, in houses that were built right up against the city walls, occasionally a plaster wall would give way, and a little room would open up, a small chamber holding a statue of a nursing wolf or a bust of the Wolf Mother.

When she was eight, in her sleeping room at the back of the little shop of Bilhah the Baker, Bilhah’s daughter Leeta one day discovered a crack in the wall. She had been ill for three days, and boredom was beginning to grow greater than the illness that kept her to her room. The child began to pick at the crack. Her mother, pulling a large tray of mooncakes from the ovens, heard a rumble and a crash. Racing back to her daughter’s room, she discovered Leeta unhurt, but covered in plaster dust, standing awed in the entrance to a newly opened chamber into the city wall behind the house.

The walls of the chamber were lined with shelves and each shelf was filled with scrolls, perfectly preserved through the centuries. The plastered walls that had been intended to erase the city’s hi’Story had instead preserved it perfectly for distant generations.  A plaque on one wall read “ElSheba Hi’Storian.”

Gormlek the Mourner had taught his daughter and then his granddaughter to read, a minimally revolutionary act in a city where only boys attended school, and the education of girls was frowned on or scoffed at.  Leeta and her mother wasted no time in reading and cataloging their new treasures.

Moon Cakes

Gratitude List:
1. Those UNICEF kids. I didn’t think I would have the energy to help them pull off a party tonight, but they came together and set up with a real will. What a terrific bunch of teenagers.
2. Flan. LaRice makes the best flan I have ever tasted.
3. A weekend to rest up.
4. Crows
5. Walt Whitman

May we walk in Beauty!

Moon Cakes

Rana the Baker needed an apprentice, and her niece Bilhah needed work that would keep her closer to her foster daughter instead of out in the fields and orchards. Bilhah took to her work like a wagon wheel to the rutted lanes of Low Street, steady and sure.  She often worked with baby Leeta tied onto her back with a long strip of cloth.

On days before the full moon, Rana’s shop was always full of customers, women requesting the round almond moon cakes that were one of the baker’s specialties. And on the days of Equinox and Solstice, and the corner days between them, Bilhah and her aunt could barely keep up with the demand for the tasty treats.

In this way, Bilhah was ushered into women’s society. She didn’t ask many questions, but she kept her eyes and ears open, and soon she had learned quite a bit about the rites and rituals of women, the keeping of time by the moon, the celebrations of the sun cycle, the moon cakes offered to the Queen of Heaven.

One early morning, carrying a squirming two-year-old Leeta on her back, Bilhah opened the bakery door to a wall of billowing smoke. Neighbors came running, and waded through the smoke to the kitchen where they found a batch of moon cakes burning in the oven. Rana had died of a sudden stroke mid-batch, and the cakes had burned.

Gormlek the Mourner himself took his sister to the houses of the dead, where he prepared her body for the cremation. Lawyers who opened her sealed testaments discovered that all her worldly possessions she had left to her niece Bilhah.  And so it was that Bilhah became Bilhah the Baker, and Leeta the Wolf-Child came to be raised in the company of women, with the exception of her doting and adored Babu Gormlek.