Sunday, April 23, 2017

a wild feminine baptism

We are born of the dark and the mud. The waters are grimy - full of nutrients, full of mica like broken stars, full of the memories of our grandmothers and all the roots, bird hearts, sorrows, they ate.The waters slid through forests where women journeyed and men dug. We are one-third muck, one-third myth, and one-third wonderment.

And through skin light shines, opening our eyes. And when we are born air flows into us, changing everything.

I remember when I was younger, and walking alone through a city far from home, far from my mother, I thought perhaps now I can call myself a woman. But I wasn't certain. Even after I too became a mother, I wasn't certain. I supposed it was a culture scar across my heart. But now I wonder if infact it was instinctive acknowledgement that I had not fulfilled the maiden spirit in me. Perhaps a woman can not feel herself a woman until she has been enough of a girl. A poet or a dancer, a nonsense-speaker, a leap of flame, a flower-scented gust, a rollick of light on the surface of the river.

Perhaps she doesn't get the chance for it until her children are grown, or her bones are old: until the men have finished talking and the parents don't care what you do any more. Perhaps she was a crone long before she got to be a maiden.

It doesn't matter of course. There's never really been anything linear about any woman. (Or any man, either.)

What I think is that sometimes, to grow, a woman must go back to her Mother. She must kneel down in old water, with the moon reflecting like horns in her wet hair, and she must delve into her amniotic mud for what belongs to her but she hasn't yet played on - tendrils of weed, sinew, love, choices, that grew around her, over and over, until they made her bones and heartbeat, and that can be plucked like harpstrings to make a self-song. I think sometimes a woman must get herself thoroughly dirty with the muck and myth of life. That's the wild feminine way to baptise yourself.

And when the woman arises again, the windswept light will dry her until she shines.  

Photographs by the amazing Michelle Gardella, who is possibly my favourite photographer ever. She has previously given me permission to share her work. 

the bear that carries the moon

Outside, the sky is slowly turning the colour of the old dreaming sea. I have come to love early mornings, for they hold stars too, and remembrances of the wild god's drumbeats that go deep beneath the soil, through the intimacies of the Mother, the roots and tunnels of the earth. I saw one houselight in the fading darkness - then realised it was my own houselight, reflecting off my neighbour's roof. It ought to serve as a lesson, but I already knew I could be my own light for myself in the world.

Frosty quiet mornings like this, I can sense the stretch of the old night, as if it is a great black bear that has been padding about the houses and streets, carrying the moon on its shoulders, and now is easing out the cold from its muscles, the stars from its pelt, and hunkering down to sleep. Now come the teeming people, the day tribe. They drive all over pawprints and over tiny pebbles thrown up by the sacred drumbeat and the pulse of the lush and heavy earth. They think they are evolved. But the night bear is older than their dreaming, and the drum, although it sings of them, is not just for them.

So another day begins.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

the legacy of an ordinary woman

There was a woman who lived quietly in the world. She won no awards, saved no lives. Mostly, she did the best she could to get by.

But she loved. People, trees, skies, animals, moments, promises, roads, words. She took the time as much as she could for wonder, enchantment, and appreciation.

She did nothing great with this love. Her art was small, simple, like her life. She would never be famous. She would probably be forgotten.

But love needs no fame to thrive. Each smile she gave to a stranger, each flower she pressed in a library book, each hug for an unhappy child, each moment in which her love shone out, would not die. It would echo on down through time. The books she wrote would be those quiet words of encouragement someone got stuck in the back of their mind. The art she painted would be memories someone could look back upon always to make them smile. The healing she did would be taught on through the generations - how to bandage a little scrape, how to sing a lullaby. She was making a legacy, even in the quiet, getting by.

illustration errol le cain

Friday, April 21, 2017

the simplicity of being

There's something I always remember near the end of a storm. The wild thing is not necessarily the fierce thing battering at edges and weeping, singing, spinning upon the silenced world. There is wild too in the calm waters and the soft meadow.

I read again this morning that a story must have conflict to be interesting. But I don't know. I've read stories in which there is no apparent conflict, but which have such a sense of place that the silence beneath that space, the old roots that have tangled and been torn apart, rewoven, repaired, to create that space, impacts on my consciousness more than any visible stakes could. The power of suggestion, and of the simple description of something, should not be underestimated. The first time I heard the title of Henry Beston's book, The Outermost House, those words alone were an entire possible story.

I've changed this webspace a little for the inbreathing time of my next book. Winter is coming, bringing words and a wolfish sea.

how to describe a woman

Do not call her beautiful, pretty, attractive. She is not the angle of bone nor the measured scope of her face. Neither call her beautiful on the inside, since she'll know exactly what you mean - a lack, dressed up in a compliment.

Instead, tell her how you love the way the world tilts slightly, as if the moon has come closer to see, when she smiles.

Do not say she is tall or short, fat or thin, as if we possess space and every inch of it must be paid for somehow. Instead, note the way she shines at the edges, where the bright, immortal sphere of her soul comes in contact with the human hour.

Let her know you are grateful for her body, since it brought her to you.

Describe not what she does for a living, because if we think money is living, we've got life badly wrong. Talk instead about the quality and tone of her silence as she sits in the bedroom watching rainshadows fall and tiny motes of dust fall and your whole courage fall because how can you approach this woman, this universe, breaking her silence and risking whatever she might say to shore you up or break you?

And when in the darkness you can not see her, can only dream her in the warmth of breath and love's heart beating, you must relinquish words entirely. When you know at last that she is beyond description, then you understand a woman.

a witch of a book

I recently finished reading Wild, An Elemental Journey, by Jay Griffith - a book which continues to cling with long, sharp fingers to my heart even after I've put it down and picked up something more gentle. It is a witch book in the darkest meaning of the word - fierce and hungry, scraping its meaning into my bones until I am crying. And in the best, most real meaning of the word - laden with an old and powerful wisdom that may taste bitter at times, may choke us with its herby smoke, but is more than essential; is true. And true we can not do without.
“All humans are essentially wild creatures and hate confinement. We need what is wild, and we thrill to it, our wildness bubbling over with an anarchic joie de vivre. We glint when the wild light shines. The more suffocatingly enclosed we are - tamed by television, controlled by mortgages and bureaucracy - the louder our wild genes scream in aggression, anger and depression.” ― Jay Griffiths
My only argument against Jay's philosophy is that wild doesn't have to mean anarchy. Infact, any walk through a forest, a riverside, a meadow, will inform you that wilderness is actually a place of peace and co-operation. I myself see modern urban civilisations as places of anarchy. For all their laws and their boundaries, they revolt in the most profound manner of all - they do as they wish, regardless of the natural rules of life.

But wild - the tapestry of living - the threads that, trembling together, hum a timeless song all over the world, whatever the zone or climate - that is the enclosure of love. And the spirit, indeed, of internet journalling, since through this medium we are able to weave our roots together and share nutrients like all the members of a forest; we sing the evening songs of food-places and experiences as small birds do; we make a community. (How strange that this should happen in a white space of no space - a realm that touches nothing except minds and hearts in disparate places of the world.) The internet dismantles political laws and boundaries. It may seem like a wild anarchy of information and opinion, but I believe it is a wild peace of co-operation.

crossed paths

There is magic in the old city. You'll know that already if you've ever lived there. Or if you've read anything by Charles de Lint you'll be able to imagine it.

We had to go all the long, long way into the city today. When we had a free moment, I took my daughter to see the decrepit house I once lived in when I was a starving student learning poetry and old books and eating Chinese takeaways for dinner. My apartment was tiny and you could not walk halfway into the kitchen without fearing that you'd slide down the tilted floor towards the uncertain windows. I was amazed to see the building still standing, after all these years.

As we were walking back down the hill, an old Slavic man walked up towards us. He looked like something out of a myth - dressed in ancient style, all browns and weary leather; he wore a round leather hat from beneath which hung two long grey braids. His chin was tattooed. He walked with the aid of a twisted wooden cane, although he was tall and thin and straight.

I smiled at him, utterly drawn to him. And he stopped. He said, how is it that I should come upon two such beautiful ladies on a day like this? And he waved a hand to honour the sky, sending black birds swirling into cold grey light. Then he held out both arms and bowed to us.

We laughed with delight and thanked him. We went on our way. Turning back once, I saw him ambling up the hill. Turning back again a moment later, I found he had vanished.

No doubt he lives in one of the tiny dingy apartments which clutter the ramshackle houses on the hill. He likely sits alone in his dim room, dreaming of his wondrous, faraway homeland and drinking smoky tea. But it seemed to me he was one of the old, deeper people, the magic people, and I feel blessed to have crossed his path on this hushed winter's day.

be here now

If you find your place in the world, but you're not really welcomed by those who already live there, keep travelling. One day you'll stop, and look up, and realise you've been searching for your place not in the world but in other people.

You belong where ever you stand. You belong in your own soul. 

celebrating litha instead of christmas

This post is a gathering of a few ideas on how to celebrate Midsummer's Day, also known as Litha or the Summer Solstice, instead of Christmas. It is of course most helpful to people living in the southern hemisphere. However, I know most of my readers experience a midwinter Christmas in the north. I also know that pagan is a uselessly broad term - my own family's spirituality looks nothing like most paganism definitions. Nevertheless, I hope my sharing, even if not specific to your own season or spirituality, will at least inspire you to contemplate how you might serve your own needs and religious callings either on December 21st (Midsummer's Day) or the 25th.


Midsummer is a time to honour the Lord of Light, the sun king. Following an Advent tradition towards midsummer is more about accumulation than opening or taking things away.

When my daughter was small, instead of an advent calendar we had a painted paper sun attached to the wall with white tack. Every day, it moved up towards a pinnacle which represented Midsummer, the longest day. Along with tiny chocolates, there was a written blessing - a gift of shining light and love - for each day.

Another idea for Advent is to pin up a picture of a golden-haired king with a 12-pointed crown. (I personally believe in a short advent for younger children). Or 13 points if you want to include the sacred number of the Mother. Each day, the child can place a star on the king's crown.

If you worship the Oak King instead of God as Light, then you may prefer to pin up a picture of a tree, and attach leaves for each day ... or have empty branches in a vase, and hang a leaf for each day.

Every day of advent, go out and pick a wildflower which you can add to a vase. As you are adding the flower, you might want to say a prayer or give a blessing to someone in the family. On Litha eve, take out these flowers and press them.

Make a series of pockets from felt and inside place a gemstone, leaf, acorn, dried rosebud, or other piece of nature, along with a blessing or a note about some special activity to plan to do that day.

Midsummer Decorating

Instead of killing a tree to decorate, you can bring in branches, place them in a vase, and hang them with handmade flowers, leaves, and stars.

Or have a vase of fresh flowers on a table, surrounded by gold-painted stones.

Make paper chains from red, yellow, and orange crepe paper to hang around the house.

Hang painted cardboard suns in the windows or make cellophane stars.

Hang a wreath or bunch of flowers on your front door.

Crafts for Children

Make fairy windchimes using ribbons, tiny silver bells and gemstones.

Sun weaving with wool and coloured paper.

Sew a sun doll.

Make a fairy maypole using cardboard and crepe paper streamers.

Print out and put together this sun box.

Make a sun fairy wand.

Plant sunflowers.

Make a sun wheel for your garden.

Make a lavender star.

More ideas here.

If you are sending out seasonal cards, rather than staid expressions of "seasonal joy", send a blessing by writing in each one what you like best about the person you are sending it to. Also add a flower over which you have said a small prayer of peace and happiness for the recipient.

For Adults

If you are pagan but not interested in Wiccan magic practices, group rituals, or old kitchen witchery - if you just believe in the old gods and want to celebrate this season without hocus pocus, here are some gentle ideas for adults at Litha, not involving children.

Take a nature walk - in the woods, along the beach.

Dance together when no one else is around.

Donate food and clothes to charity.

Cleanse your house with natural, flower-based cleaners. Sweep the hearth.

Host a barbecue or picnic.

Do something special for your husband.

Light a candle and pray for the peace and happiness of your marriage, or your family, or the world.

Rent a good version of Shakespeare's A Midsummernight's Dream and having a movie evening with honey-coated popcorn and wine.

Write a letter to your father telling him how you honour and love him.

Gather berries at local farms.

Meditate upon the spiritual themes which summer arises in your heart and mind.

On Litha Eve

Watch the sunset and tell stories of good kings and brave, honourable knights. Stories of flower fairies, promises kept, dreams redeemed.

Visit the woods and sing songs, make circles from flower petals, leave fruit for the birds.

Visit the beach and leave coils of shells or stones in the sand.

Set out colourful silk cloth prayer flags in your garden.

Ring a delicate bell at midnight for any children who are lying awake hoping to see or hear evidence of the Litha fairies.

Sprinkle glitter and flower petals on the floor so when the children wake in the morning they will see the fairies have been, leaving them presents.

On Litha Morning

Instead of paper crowns from crackers, make leaf crowns or flower wreaths hung with brightly coloured ribbons.

Wrap gifts in muslin and silk cloths instead of paper.

Light a candle and say a prayer or sing before opening gifts.

Burn incence.

Sit in a circle to open gifts.

Have father dress up as the sun king or forest king and bring gifts in a sack.

Lay out beads or genstones in circles so they can soak in the sun through the day. In the afternoon or the next day, make them into bracelets.

Through the Day

Have a picnic lunch.

Set up little tents for the children. Each one could contain a different activity or special food.

Make a summer pinata by gluing leaves to a paper mached balloon.

Since a special song, say a prayer, drink a toast, or scatter flower petals at noon.

Litha Night

Have a bonfire.

Fill your garden with tea light candles and have a picnic dinner.

Sing goodnight to the sun.


Fruit salad
Vegetable and herb salad
Coiled bread
Sun cake (however you want it - for example, a sponge cake with jam, cream, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with clean rose petals.)
Sunflower seed bars
Strawberries dipped in honey
Fruit cake
Rose sugar
Find the sun inside apples by cutting them open horizontally

Gift ideas

For stockings or otherwise. Most of these you can make yourself. Trust me! Many of them I have made and it's easier than you might think.

Fleece fairies
Felt dolls
Silk cuddle doll
Solar dyed cloths or tshirts
Willow whistle
Soft-coloured muslin or silk cloths for playtime
Modelling beeswax
Felt gnomes
Felt finger puppets
Hand-carved dolls' furniture
Fairy garden
Painted stones
Fairy baby in a cradle
Handmade books
Magic wands

Explaining to Family

If you have extended family who are not pagan, who believe strongly in another religion, or who simply sneer at anything they don't follow themselves, then don't explain about your December tradition unless you want to. Just say you are doing your own thing at home ... Or don't say anything, simply do it and don't invite them.

a woman's magic

This morning is seawash over black corrugated rock, surreptitious breezes, gull song. I am sitting both in my little cottage and my old ramshackle house across the water; I have sand and tide spray in my soul, whether I want it or not. And I am thinking of my most beloved role model, the adult Tenar, and of the simple domestic magics that women do, such as sweeping sand from the doorstep, washing of it from windows. The deep, barely conscious relationship we have with the great old world. It breaks apart at our thresholds, and we return it to itself. In keeping sand, dirt, winged things, rain, from our houses, we protect not only our shelter from the wild, but the wild from being trapped in a tamed place.

Yesterday, I wrote about magic for my new project, which I hope will be ready next week. Today, I plan to do magic myself. Wash the floors. Water the garden. Go for a walk in the coral-coloured morning. In the halls of power, men and women are working to keep the world safe from those who would burn it. I can not help them. I can only do the work of my own threshold. It is a work of sand, water, words. Whatever goes on in great halls, they will rise and fall. It is in the little places, the doorsteps and dreams, that we find true, enduring power in our mutuality with the world.

women in the morning shedding their dream skins

Soft, the sky above me, but the east is raw with dawn. Quietness holds the world gently, as if it is made from porcelain. But there is song: low music of cicadas, leaping calls of the small birds. I sit here alone and think of the women drawing themselves out of dark oceans, and what slips from them as they come - perhaps lace and satin; half-forgotten wishes; stars. If they want to survive the long dry day, they must oil themselves. For women aren't meant to go skinless, but the world demands it of them, even while deriding whatever protections they try to give themselves.

Remember that every one you meet is a naked goddess. Be gentle with their courage. Be respectful, and see the primeval waters in their eyes.

(some lovely news: Robert Macfarlane is now on twitter.)

gentle and brave

I read often these days about women who are power-brokers, and women who are healers; strong women, courageous. And I think of how many of that kind I know myself.

I know women whose skin scrapes against the luminous skin of the world, and so it takes courage for them to go out of their house unshawled, barefaced, to where the crowds and the cars roughen the world's skin too.

I know women whose power is the gentling of small worried hearts, and negotiating playground treaties, and creating the greatest enterprises of all - human beings.

I know women who heal others through the food they make them, the moonlit stories they tell them, the quiet hand they lay so very softly on their arm, easing them into peace.

Courage is not always a battlestorm. It can be as simple as a smile, as quiet as slipping a poem into your social media feed. It can be holding the stillness in the darkness, holding the calm so other people feel safe enough to fear.

Courage can be daring to be gentle. How many women have the courage to show the world they are not so much skin but the memory of owl feathers, or the constellations of old quiet words, or what the tide tenderly left behind when it withdrew back into magic?

I wish I was an artist, for I would love to make a badge : gentle & brave. And I would love to wear it, display it on my website, so other women knew.

Knew that I knew that was what they were too.

the shy woman

Just because she is shy doesn't mean she's not skilled at what she does, nor that she lacks respect for her own skill. It only means she finds it hard to talk about herself.

Just because she is shy doesn't mean she considers herself less than you. Nor that she has little to talk about. She has walked some of the roads ahead of you; she is an interesting shadow behind the firelight, a story of old moss and gold. Just because she is shy doesn't mean she's insensitive to your condescension.

And just because she is shy doesn't mean she wants to hide her light, only that she prefers the calm beauty of shining like a candle rather than a torch, illuminating a small and quiet dark.

Yesterday was International Women's Day here, today the north is celebrating it. This post is dedicated to the quiet women who deserve celebration just as much as the bold and famous. 

when you don't love yourself

In the gently singing dark of early morning, with stars still flecking the long cold sky, I drink tea and imagine the quiet season to come. One of my favourite things about winter is that there are no cicadas. I do not like them. I was raised in forests where their sound was relentless, riotous. I can never quite ignore it. And yet, as I listen now, I do appreciate the trembling loveliness, and how it gives a kind of structure in the lightlessness to my little garden. Without that cicada song, I might easily believe the world falls away from my windows, leaving only dark sky and dreams. Such is the vulnerability of an autumn morning. Such is its enchantment.

Have you ever been told that no one will love you until you love yourself? I imagine so; it seems a common thing to say. But it's also a cruel and condemning thing. Someone who struggles to love themselves may then utterly resent themselves for the weakness that supposedly keeps them from being loved. They may believe their fragility and low self esteem make them ineligible for love. They might not believe it when it's offered to them. And so they go on in loneliness and pain.

But that's not how it is at all. True love is a response to a true heart. It takes all the fragile pieces and holds them close. It sings in the dark. If love required high self esteem from its every object, no one would ever have it, because we are, most of us, uncertain. I believe this idea that we must love ourselves first is a manifestation of our culture's current cult of the individual. It is dangerous and mean, because it keeps us from relationships with others.

If you are struggling with self-love, may I suggest you ease away from that, and instead go out into the world to love others? Be kind to strangers. Take care of small animals. Have a conversation with someone who looks lonely. Do charity work. Love is not about ourselves. It's about how we are with others. It's a doing thing.

sacred homemaking

As I sit here in the pale, quiet light, awaiting the worst storm in fifty years, I feel now and again a seawash of coolness coming through the opening window to touch me. It is only slightly chilling; mostly, it is softening. I do so love the hours before a storm.

And I love autumn too, with its gentle drawing inward. It is such a homey season. It inspires an instinct towards warming, sheltering, which seems to me like an instinct for love. I wonder if in autumn prehistoric people brought the year's last flowers into their caves, and found aesthetic pleasure in rugs, and in whatever softness they could make for themselves. There really is something so sacred about making a home here on earth, in this life - making a space of love which reflects what we experience of divine love. Making a space which keeps people warm, makes them feel safe and comfortable, so they can open themselves to love too.

Which is why I am always saddened where I hear young people being asked what they want to do with their lives, what job they want, with no consideration or respect for the possibility that they might wish more than anything to be a full-time homemaker. It's something many young women struggle with, but I wonder how many young men also feel the same, perhaps even worse, as while homemaking is thought of as a lesser option for women, it is not  thought of at all for men.

My sky is blanching, my garden growing still. Soon the rain will be here. I am going to change my weblog, to make it warmer, more cosy. Homemaking does not only happen in rooms. It happens in your heart and your creative imagination too.

the magic and medicine work of the internet

There is magic in the internet, and it shines through. Firstly, in the hearts and words of readers, for which I must thank you - your comments on yesterday's post were much appreciated and I have answered there. But also in the things we can find when we reach into this space of light ... when we reach carefully, and mindfully, that is. Let me show you what I found, this quiet, rainy Sunday morning ...

I read Sharon Blackie's article on falling into the land's dreaming, which reminded me to sit awhile and listen to my own land's wept elegies. I answered with my heart's weeping for what I have lost too. And I saw then how we are sisters, this water-logged place and I, sisters in sorrow, both of us grieving for trees, even though I am a hill woman and she is the memory of the sea.

And then, since I was thinking about creating a e-newsletter, I looked again at the latest one from Sylvia Linsteadt, who always writes something I love to read. Maybe it was because of the Mariee Sioux music I was listening to, or the rain outside which sounded akin to that music, or the reminder of my lost hills which sound also like Mariee, like rain ... or maybe because I just linger in the same small circles ... that I went unintentionally from Sharon to Sylvia, who are so alike in their beautiful weaving of earth wisdom, earth songs. In any case, one of the links I'd not yet read in Sylvia's newsletter was an article by Natalie Diaz ...

If what I mean is hummingbird, if what I mean is fall into my mouth. This lovely, heart-enrichening piece about lost language spoke to me as I try to find ways to communicate through a deepening silence. I was reminded how important it is to know just what I want to say so I can know how to say it. It involves listening to myself, falling into my own dreaming.

I went to make a cup of tea, and when I returned I noticed an as-yet unviewed tab. It held Suskir's pinboard, Nourish, Medicine, Dreaming. And the first pin was captioned with a small piece of writing I'd actually read earlier in the morning in a post from someone else on Facebook ....

Instead of judging yourself for being dreamy and unproductive, why not set about some nothingness today. Let your mind wander off into the metaphorest. Notice the ideas that appear there like wild animals in the quiet. Follow your daydreams through until they yield some juicy fruit, and remember to taste them with a touch of relish. . - © 2007 Toko-pa Turner

The title of this piece is Dreamspeak.

The echo of these words, coming after the articles I had just read, emphasised that Old Mama World, oh yes, she was talking with me.

So I listened some more to what Toko-pa had to share, and she led me to the centre of it all, and one of the wisest descriptions of the Mama I've ever heard. Women, listen to this video, and remember - this is what we can do for the world. This is our blessing-power and our blessing-way.

Over the years, I have gathered internet sites to nourish me in different ways. Today I saw clearly what I had made for myself from this great web of light, dark, words, links : a medicine bag, out of which I draw wisdom, guidance, inspiration, stories, heartsongs, every day.

how to write first sentences

The experts say a first sentences must grab a reader and draw them into the story. There are all kinds of technical tricks you can (should) use. All manner of necessities.

But I think there is another angle a writer can consider.

The start of a book is the start of a relationship. So to me the most important thing about it is that it be genuine. Those first sentences tell a reader if the book is a kindred spirit or not. In some ways, the story itself matters less to a reader than the way it is told. You want to be using your real voice from the beginning. You want to have your favourite words right there to flare against, dissolve into, your reader's soul. Because we all like clever books - but we love books which get into our soul.

One way to think of it is that your first sentences could be like your smile. There's so much you can tell about a person from their smile. It's a language that speaks to instinct, to shared humanity. Writers are advised to start their story as close as possible to the moment of change, and technically that's good advice - but, from a different paradigm, I'd add that you should start as close as possible to the heart of your story.

Think of your protagonist, and smile. How does it feel? Is it happy? Tranquil? Sad? Tight and frustrated?  Let the shape of that smile slide into the shape of words and onto your page.

Figure out what is the most important thing about your story, and show that in your first sentences.

It's advice I'd give anyone about life and relationships, really ...

Let your words and your way of being communicate from the start about your important things. 

Never mind what the experts say about how you should technically manage those first meetings, what you should be wearing, how you should colour your hair or what car you should drive. My favourite writers break the technical rules but absolutely win my devotion because I love the heart and soul of their story. That story becomes a friend because of what it is on the inside. Same with my favourite people.

Today someone reminded me what is important to me. And I put that into my story. The relationship won't be overt to readers, but the spirit will be there. I think that's what it's all about. The spirit of relationship with a story, a person, an idea. 

People love your books ... or your religion, or your values, or you ... when you open a space of belonging for them in that relationship too.

the wild and weedy medicine of storytelling

It was twelve years ago that I first encountered the idea that stories can be medicinal. I'd previously come across something similar - the therapeutic power of stories to help troubled people. But when I became involved with Steiner education, I developed a deeper understanding, one which resonated on feral, sacred levels of bone and sinew, deep grief and profound love.

Stories, they're thread to stitch the wound we all carry, the cut between us and the other. - The Storyteller of Cyriae, Driftways.

Other people and animals.
Other places.
Other perspectives.
Other kinds of lifestyle.
Other aspects of our selfhood.
Other layers of consciousness.
Other ways of touching the world.

I personally believe medicine, done right, is woven through with the spirit of Life, the magic and mystery and the ineffable beauty of Life. That's where it gets its healing power from.

My apprenticeship with medicinal storytelling began, of course, with the old fairy tales. They're old for a reason. People have kept them going because they say important things and minister to our souls. When there is no real medicine in the tale, it withers away, untold, unloved. (And of course invaders have always understood the importance of repressing or reassigning a people's stories, to leave their culture with no soul-remedy for invasion.)

Soon, I was learning to make my own gentle medicine. I especially found it helpful in mothering. For example, being able to see things in the frame of a story, a narration of that moment in time and yet braided to other moments, the progression of life - this has been invaluable in providing me with clear perspective (although not always in the particular moment!)

Ever since, I have been trying to practice a wise and nurturing narration within my heart for my daily life. It isn't always possible. But when I remember, it always helps.

Novel writing is very different from this kind of storytelling. I think perhaps it's too easy for the writer to focus on the plot, the grammar, the precision of editing, rather than to grow the spirit of the tale. I think too novelists worry a lot about structure, pacing, word counts - whereas medicinalists know to value weeds, unexpected growth, symbosis. I know some medicinal novels. But they are less common than I would wish them to be.

I believe that everything is, and should be dealt with as, Story. It makes me sad that our culture has come to believe a story is something you find inside a book, or perhaps on a CD, composed by a person for whom tale-telling is a career. But the truth is, your life is a manifestation of your inner narration. A day is good or bad because you tell the story of it one way or another. And we can all heal ourselves with story. The medicine is weedy, wild, everywhere.

wild sky writer

Most of my favourite authors have earthy, root-rich, forested voices. I wish to sound like them. I dig up old broken tales of winter hags and tangle-haired women and bone singers. I lay the words infront of me and try to work out how to fit them together with mossy dark conjunctives and beautiful sentences. And then, restless, uncertain, I seek inspiration from the woodlands and meadows and feral magics those authors write about.

But the truth I keep bashing up against, falling apart against, is that I am not an earthy woman. I don't live like one, parent like one, comprehend the world like one. And I don't write like one either.

If I'm being honest, I don't really find comfort in the forest, or sitting amongst wildflowers in long, fragrant grass. I can not abide the sea. What I want is distances.

The idea of the forest.
The silence between said things.
The space between text and understanding.
The faraway hills.

And the wind, the rain, the rivers in the sky, moving through those distances and suggesting stories that do not need to be told to be powerful

I don't mean that I am an edgewitch or that I live or work in the liminal spaces. Absolutely not. Infact, I believe they are sacred spaces in which the wild god dwells, and as soon as we step into them we change them - fill them.

I think its good for writers to understand about the timbre of our voices, but I also believe we need to consider too what we hear, and how we hear it. What kinds of conversations do we have with the natural world, the spirit-filled world? Does the earth drum up stories for us that we eat with wild acorns and medicinal weeds and teas of flower and smoke? Or does the wind drift poetry into our eyes and our hearts?

Never mind if all our favourite people are writing about earth and wonderful old fables that enchant us. Perhaps there are readers out there wishing to read about storms and dreamy horizons and profound night silences and what lies between stars and candlelight. If we know, we can speak it for them in a way earthy people can not.

I suspect it may be harder for sky-spirited writers to settle easily into writing, simply because of the nature of their kindred element. They are always being blown this way and that. They are always left feeling just outside of belonging. Earth writers have the advantage of being grounded. Perhaps that is why most windswept stories are actually poems. We catch their threads on a passing breeze and weave them quickly, instinctively, into words that do not often need composting or pruning. But oh, imagine the book that is a wild storm ...

how to write poetically

I am not an expert on writing, I am only someone who writes, and I thought it might be interesting to share with you a couple things I've noticed along the way about poetic writing. Here are a few ideas, for whatever they may be worth, about creating a gentle cadence in your story, novel, poem, or blogpost.

Match internal vowel sounds. Straight-out rhyming is usually jarring within prose, but a delicate internal rhyme can give your sentence flow. He heard the stir of autumn. 

Match internal consonants. This generally stops rhythmic flow, but can create a heavier beat, a percussion effect whether like drums ... down the mountain they blasted on their motorbikes ... or cymbals ... Susan listened to the spiteful hissing of the sea outside her door. 

Alliteration. Matching the first letter of words is something I see constantly overused by students who have been taught poetry by someone not actually a poet. If it is to work, it must be done calmly, without too much thought - but always be aware that as soon as your readers realise it's there, it will seem clunky and obvious, and your hand will show. She opened the old tin, found tobacco papers, safety pins, and a tarnished wedding ring. (Note that example also contains matched internal vowels.)

Adjective-noun pairs. A common apprentice error is to match adjective with noun, adjective with noun, adjective with noun, creating a stuttering effect and showing why editors are always calling for fewer descriptors. But I believe adjectives (and adverbs!) can be used beautifully - just read Patricia McKillip or Nancy Springer to see them mastered with full effect. There are a couple of tricks to using adjectives well. Firstly, mix up the number you use in one sentence. The bright clouds drifted across a vast blue sky. (Take out vast and see the difference it makes.) Secondly, pay attention to syllable counts. For example, the big cat compared with the enormous cat. Thirdly, worry not so much about the quantity of your descriptors but the quality. You will naturally use fewer when you use them with precision. And precise language is always beautiful, poetic. Compare the delicious, moist cake with the succulent cake. On the other hand, keep it real; for example, his black hair compared with his sable hair.

And. This word can be a great way to create rhythm, so long as you use it wisely. The sky and the hills and the shimmer of love-light between them entranced me. (Note the short-short-long notes of sky, hills, and shimmer of love light.) On the other hand, you can also bring a poetic cadence by removing and. The sky, the hills, the shimmer of love-light between them : I was entranced. And is perhaps best used when you have two words beginning with similar sounds. For example, the book and the bowler hat, rather than the book, the bowler hat. One is a beat-flow-beat, whereas the other is a beat-beat. It all depends on the pattern of sound you wish to create.

Music. Listen to it lots before you write. Then write in silence, or you'll lose the natural music of your own words. I think it's especially important to edit in silence, so we can be sure what we wrote in the heat of the moment still sings now our hearts have grown cooler and more clinical.

Simple language. Some of the most glorious stories and poems I've encountered have contained intoxicating words not in everyday use. Mervyn Peake was a poet of the highest calibre in this regard. But such an ability with language is a rare gift - truly, a rare gift. I've never understood why everyone recognises that only a few are specially gifted in sports, maths or art, but believes any person and their dog can write. Unless you know a word, love a word, are so comfy with a word that you'd spend time with it even before you'd cleaned your teeth in the morning, don't use it. Simple words are beautiful and powerful if used well. Also, if a reader has to put down your book and pick up a dictionary, chances are you've done something badly. (On the other hand, you may have been quite purposeful. I just wrote a poem full of words that require a dictionary review, but that was the intention.) The incongruous evening may say exactly what you mean about luminescence in the darkness, but if no one understands then what's the point?

Similes. This is another overused tool. I can usually tell which students have been Educated in creative writing by the number of similes they use. I personally believe similes should be applied rarely, and only if you can not in some way make the association more direct, ie by turning it into a metaphor. Compare She had eyes like a spring sky with Her spring-blue eyes or, better yet, Her eyes. (Why do writers always tell us what colour eyes a character has? Does it ever make a difference to your visual image of them?)

Respect. The best way to create a poetic sense in your writing is to pack away your ego and your literary brilliance, and let the story do its work. A reader can almost always tell when a writer has striven to create an effect, but when that effect is a natural consequence of the story, it is more subtle and admirable. I've found that tales about volcanoes come already equipped with sudden blasting verbs, and fissures in sentences, and a smoulder of uncertain words. I've found that sea stories naturally shift, as if they have their own tide. Writing is a partnership between the teller and the thing being told.

keeping the world soft

The morning was like porcelain, like I always imagine winter's soul to be, fragile and beautiful. And it had such a sense of comfort to it, because of that vulnerability. I knew any rain might fall, any icy wind might come, but whatever did would be from the heart of the world, and I would breathe through it as always.

People talk about the importance of being strong, but there is such a truthfulness to vulnerability - I think it must be what angel light is made from. Not the power of strength, but the promise of love and hope.

We need strength in our communities - not a hard, fierce strength, but a steadiness in the service of love. We need softness too. After all, the strong hand is not wanted to pick tiny healing herbs from amongst forest undergrowth. The strong hand is reminded, gentle, when stroking a baby's cheek. There has always been deep wisdom, shamanic sacred wisdom, and a genuine liberation to be found, in letting go of holding on.

Besides, true strength - not power or force, but that which sets us upright and keeps us moving on - isn't something we necessarily make inside ourselves, like a quality of our blood or nerves. We get our strength from the love of family and friends. from inspiration, encouragement. From rest, peace, comfort, and nourishment.

Maybe we could even say that strength is not a single quality, but is woven from many threads of kindness, care, and trust.

These days I have seen so clearly that many people are less able, or less willing, to hold a space of love and comfort for others. I hope we do not make this world so hard that it can no longer grow wild, weedy, beautiful.

the language of women; or, star-gathering

I have been reading Dancing At The Edge of the World, by Ursula le Guin. I love what she has to say about the shape of the novel:

... the Hero has decreed through his mouthpieces the Lawgivers, first, that the proper shape of the narrative is that of the arrow or spear, starting here and going straight there and THOK! hitting its mark (which drops dead); second, that the central concern of narrative, including the novel, is conflict; and third, that the story isn't any good if he isn't in it.
 I differ with all of this. I would go so far as to say that the natural, proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us. (p169)

Angela Carter once wrote a story, The Executioner's Beautiful Daughter, in which almost nothing happened. People were bewildered. People were disturbed. It happens to be one of the most powerful and lovely and horrific stories I've ever read, and it works on so many levels I can not describe them all here - but it does not fit the linear rule. It is a snapshot, a suggestion, a bag of seeds and stars. It is a feminine story. And it's how I myself best like to write.

I know, I am walking on dangerous ground by using words like feminine! So let me say straight off that I believe men can have feminine aspects to them, and women can have masculine aspects, and all people are individual, but we only have so many words, and our words aren't always nuanced as we would like, so I beg your forgiveness for any offence.

Elsewhere in Dancing At The Edge of the World, Ursula talks (literally: it was a commencement speech) about men's language in life - words of power and battle - and the softer language of women. It's a beautiful and thoughtful speech, but when I first read it, I rolled my eyes somewhat. Old-time feminist, I accused her silently in my mind.

Then I came across an article in the Huffington Post: 30 Best Places to Be A Mom. Their criteria : lifespan of women and children, years in education, percentage of women in positions of governmental power, and length of maternity leave. New Zealand made the top 30 because women here spend on average 20 years in the education system.

And there it was. The language of men, imposed on the experience of women.

I don't know about you, but as a woman I think New Zealand is a great place to be a mum because :

* Our world-class maternity care is free (unless you choose to pay for private services)
* Health care for children is excellent, and usually free until the age of ten
* The air is clean, the neighbourhood is not crowded, the water is safe
* It's generally safe to walk the streets
* Food is relatively affordable, clean, safe, and easy to get
* Women are respected and seen as equal to men
* I have choices about my child's education (at least at the moment)
* Disadvantaged women receive government assistance so they can parent well in most situations
* Folk hereabouts are generally nice

It's nice to live a long time, but there's not much point in it if you're sick, endangered, and forced into a slave marriage. And maternity leave is great - except it's even better to respect the role of homemaking women, and to support them as much as possible to stay at home if they feel that's important. And frankly I couldn't care less whether my politicians are male or female, they all think the same way anyhow, and it makes no difference to my own life or my parenting.

So as a woman I am surely going to write differently from men? Well, you wouldn't actually think so, considering the sorts of books so many women write these days. Heroines who are basically guys in female bodies. Sex which reads like a male fantasy rather than the evolution of relationship which is what really interests women. Plots which tick all the boxes and follow all the proper steps. Stories which can be neatly charted.

I've finally realised that I'm a feminist author, because I could write a straight-forward novel just fine but I resent having to do so. I want to be able to talk like a woman. To ramble on sometimes, exploring different paths rather than striding immediately towards the Dark Lord's castle. I want to allude. To wander in a circle or simply stand somewhere and just describe that one place. To dig up things and lay them out and that there is the whole story. To be organic, and in-the-moment, and intuitive. To wonder exactly why the Dark Lord is so grumpy - maybe a tonic would do him good? To want to feed my armies, and care for their wounds.

I don't want to tell women's stories, per se. I want to tell stories as a woman. Le Guin did a wonderful job of it in Tehanu. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is another who reminds us of the feminine voice, the old woman-ways.  Theodora Goss has a gift for it too, sometimes. And of course many of the classic novelists did it, especially those writing for children, like LM Montgomery.

As for me ... I am not as great a storyteller as these women. But I do have an idea of what is right for me as a woman writer. Le Guin says that what makes a story is, "you want to find out what happens next." The kinds of stories I want to write are the ones where I show you one perspective of what happened, and you hopefully imagine what happens next. It's not possible to write like that using masculine language. I don't even know that a novel can achieve it. (I tried with Deep in the Far Away. Those questions you have lingering about various things are meant to be there.)

I want you to pull something out of a bag of seeds, of stars, of strange and lovely words, and sit for a long while dreaming, pondering, and deciding what it means to you. That seems a very feminine way to me. Offering a story as a relationship, rather than a telling.

* Note : the Kin Fables trilogy of short films on Vimeo does this beautifully. And they're made by men. So I want to reiterate, this isn't a male/female issue. Only, the masculine/feminine energy paradigm is the easiest, briefiest language to use for a blogpost.

when you need to live quietly

Summer blazes on, full of cicada song and dandelions. I close my door against it. I could take my lunch and book to the meadow or the beach. I could cycle into town, wander the lovely, tree-lined streets. But although I'm hot, I'd rather just sit in my quiet house and rest from the world. The noise and clutter and beauty of the world.

Some people simply need to exist in a low stimulus environment. I read those words today at Beauty That Moves, and after many decades of living I finally felt allowed to accept myself. I am not boring, lazy, or wrong. I need a low stimulus environment.

It's not just about doing things. A walk on the beach is not too much because of the walking. It's because of the tidesong, and the light floating on water, and all the stories that wash in. It's because every other person walking past trails perfume, energy, wonder, sound. It's because of all the other days spent walking on the beach that layer the air of this one.

And needing quiet is not about wanting to be alone and still. Even the most adventurous, friendly, cheerful heart may be sensitive and easily overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, few people understand. I wonder how many women feel wrong for needing low stimulus? I myself have been judged often for sitting on the sidelines rather than swimming with dolphins or rambling over islands. It's hard to explain how there's such plentitude available even in sitting, staying, witnessing. To get in the water would be too much, and would ruin the experience.

And so I am at home today, and my existence is full.

when your hands fail you

If you do not bake because there aren't enough in your house to eat it before it goes stale,
and your finger joints, fragile wrists, prevent you from knitting,
and there is no maple sap in your garden's trees, no wild honey from the occassional bee, no lavishment of vegetables,
and if you are achingly far from the scratch of farm grass, or the mist of a shy morning drifting over hills,

and if your shabby never quite looks chic,
and there's not a china tea set to be found for love or money in the whole country,  
and dairy intolerance prevents you from enjoying hot chocolate & devonshire teas, 
but you can not abide the taste of chai, 

if you'll never get to Paris, or travel the rivers wild,
and your fertility ran out before your perfect family size did,
or you failed the intake to be a fireman, lawyer, actor, priest,
and all your indoor pot plants die,
although you tried, 

and if your camera won't open to enough light,
your watercolours are kindergarten quality, your blog template amateur
and you can't create the magic of poetry although you love to write,
and if all your paths are paved, the sea miles away, the peace broken by suburban sound,

friend, you are still enough.  

~ ~ ~

paintings by my favourite artist, Jessie M King

when you lack self-confidence

Do you ever have days when you don't feel confident? When you're unsure of yourself, or fragile, or nervous? I wonder why that's always seen as something to be overcome.

I am beginning to think that the ideal of self-confidence is something invented by extroverts.

Imagine if we embraced our uncertainty. If instead of bolstering ourselves with the determination to be self-confident, we instead wrapped ourselves in self-care, and went forth slowly, gently, with mindful steps. Of course we want to trust ourselves, believe in ourselves. I'm not proposing that we turn away from that. But maybe, on those days when we're feeling doubtful, hesitant, shy, anxious, it is worth considering just dwelling within that lack of confidence for a while. Honouring it. Listening to what it has to teach us.

For me, allowing uncertainty can lead to me looking after myself more thoughtfully. Instead of building my self-esteem, I deepen my self-care. I wear clothes which comfort me. Avoid scenes which I know will disturb me. Go slowly with new tasks. Because allowing uncertainty doesn't mean giving up before we start, it just means being tender with ourselves.

It means considering what fear is trying to tell us. Because fear always has a message born from love.

I am not confident many people will understand what I'm trying to say here. It will be interesting to read any comments.

the dreaming women

For all the women who know chiffon magic and velvet moons. For the barefoot women, the river-singing women, who read by candlelight even when the electricity is working, and like to name stars anew from their own private mythologies, and need books.

For the women who feel somehow winged and boned with smoke, but can still get the kitchen floor scrubbed. Wander-hearted, enchanted, the unkempt women who keep song in the world.

Part of a moon was falling down the west,
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw it
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings,
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,
As if she played unheard some tenderness
That wrought on him beside her in the night.

Robert Frost

For the women who never just see the horizon but envision its lucent reveries & promises, and for whom skies become elven kingdoms and breezes are old sacred poems ... The wild and quiet women, strong and gentle women, the dreamers and drifting souls ...

Thank you for being yourselves. We need your luminous, fecund, unravelled, ensorcelling truth.

the muddy hem sisterhood

I wear only dresses. Cycling, clambering over broken rocks, boating, forest-wandering, grass-wading, climbing stiles and fences, making a cautious path through dirty fields of sheep : all done in long drifty skirts. It's actually perfectly easy, and I imagine women all down the centuries have managed wonderful adventures in their long skirts and petticoats. There's something quietly fulfilling about coming home trailing dust, brambles, tiny white wings of dandelion clocks, or with a sea-soaked hem clinging to your ankles. It reminds a woman that she is part of the furry brown body of the goddess.

Over at instagram, the marvellous Bryony Whistlecraft responded to my photograph (above) with the idea of an embroidered badge for those who belong to the sisterhood of Muddy Hems : women who ramble around the countryside in impractical dresses. (The gorgeous Kerrie came up with the phrase Muddy Hem Sisterhood.)

I love this idea, and am excited to see what Bryony might create. It made me imagine that perhaps I am not so unusual, as I appear to be in my particular neck of the woods where the women all wear sensible trousers (or skirts above the knee) and don't go out unnecessarily in feral conditions.

I like to think of a coterie of women who seem to have stepped out of old, irreverent stories to wade the wild places, their skirts like full moons, like billowing winds, like the voluptuous imaginations of strange girls everywhere, trawling the world for tiny bits of magic.

the courage of a woman

When I see descriptions of what makes a brave woman - all the sharp and strong things, the power things that no one could miss as being courage in action - I feel just a little moment of sadness. Because it's true that the woman with a bow & arrow, or the woman who speaks up against injustice, or the mountain-climbing woman, is brave indeed.

But so is the woman who speaks in a normal voice in a normal context, talking about the weather maybe, or what she did that afternoon, when all her instinct is for sheltering silence. And the woman in relentless pain, just walking slow for a little way. Not running a marathon, or climbing a mountain. Just ambling to her letter box.

The bravest women I know are ordinary women living quiet and ordinary lives that require enormous courage and determination from them. Women trying to feed their families as food prices rise. Women working out how to raise their children well even though the old-fashioned community support networks are broken down. Women negotiating painfully between who they are and who they want to be, in order to get a job or a husband or the approval of other women. Women climbing on chairs to change a lightbulb. Women sweeping up the spider. Women homeschooling. Women knitting despite arthritis. Women living on and on after their husband has died, learning how to balance the chequebook and fix the squeaky door and breathe alone in bed at night.

There are so many inspiring, powerful women in the world, sharing their intelligence through business or politics, leading charities, writing in books or on weblogs. Beautiful, bold women. I'm so grateful for them. But I want to acknowledge too the gentle women, the shy and anxious and hurt and broken and plain and slightly confused women. They inspire me even more than the bold, powerful ones. For theirs is a real and endlessly enduring courage.

to the beautiful woman

Hello, beautiful woman. I see you in the golden morning light, standing on that scale in the bathroom. You're such a lovely sight.

Understand, I'm not seeing you with my eyes. I'm watching him watch you. I can see him remembering how his hand traced the long slow bulge of your hips, your belly - a journey of romance, a dance in the dark. I can tell from his smile that he's counting each pound you carry : this one for the hours spent labouring in a cold hospital room; this one for the brave and wonderful homebirth; this one for that night under a thousand paper moons when just you and he went out for pasta; this one for the way you ate his mother's roast chicken and smiled, laughed, shared all his loves, even though you are vegetarian. How can I not see your beauty when I look at him looking at you?

Understand this too: I'm seeing you through their big, long-lashed eyes. You are huge to them. You are goddess-sized. They cling to your soft knees like they want to climb you, crawl back into you, all the warm loving softness of you. They haven't been taught yet about the Ideal of youthful slenderness. They don't understand how important it is to have a straight nose, long fingers, smooth hair. They catalogue your flaws like this: a laugh so loud they can feel it right through their bones and soul so they learn that joy is not just an intellectual experience; a soft, cosy body to wrap them in all the comfort of love; a weave of stretchmarks to decorate your skin like warrior paint or henna for the marriage day or clouds beautifying the sky. How can I think you fat, ugly, unacceptable, when I watch them looking at you?

And understand one more thing. I'm looking at you through the eyes of other women. And this is what they see: beauty they long for. A loving husband, devoted children, simple love. They starve themselves not so they can be pretty, but so they can be desirable and therefore have a chance to win what you have. Love. It's all about love. You are one of the lucky ones. If you of all people can worry about your body image, how much worse must it be for the women who do not have all the precious things you have? Who yearn for children but fear they'll never get them because no one wants to marry a fat girl or a freckled girl or whatever they think their problem is.

The misogyny of the diet industry, the cosmetics industry, the vile advertising industry : we allow it. We're scared and so we buy into it, literally. I wish we would stop talking about our body image problems, and start taking action.

Start talking about love and romance rather than sex and diets.

Start complimenting each other, building each other up.

Start drawing our single friends into our relationships with other single friends if we know they're lonely.

Stop talking about numbers on a scale, and talk instead about numbers of times we've crept up behind our children and lifted them suddenly into the air, swinging them around to make them squeal with delight.

Stop saying that it's okay to be alone. It is okay if that's what you want. But alot of people don't want it, and I see alot of women bricked up behind denial, pretending that they're truly happy in a solo existence. Let them grieve for their aloneness, their social infertility, if that's how they feel. Recognise it, acknowledge it, and then do something to create communities so women can really support each other.

Stop passing body obsession and shame on to our daughters. So they wear a bikini. So what? They're not trolling for sex, they're overheating on the beach.

Stop the message that guys only want one thing. Look at all the photographs of men with their babies. Read the love poems by men who can't breathe when they're in the presence of a certain women. Men have hearts. Don't let them just be bodies.

Start loving each other instead of comparing ourselves with each other. We are all beautiful within love. And we are all scared that we will not have love. The misogynist money-making diet doctors feed off that fear. We can only fight them with love.

the wild ways of stone and soul

Sometimes I wonder why I have trouble following a straight course. And then I revisit the paths I grew up walking, and I remember. My feet and heart are used to strange ways. And I guess my relationship with those paths also led me to some strange kind of thinking ...

 It seems most people think of a path in terms of how we move upon it – this way, that way, sometimes off it (if we're willing to take the risk). But I believe a path can be a living thing, a complicated thing, rich with stop and go. I guess what we know of it depends on how we walk it.

This week, I followed the witch-ways of my old summer home. I wasn't going anywhere, I was being with the paths. Often, people would pass me. They had destinations, and sensible shoes, and they powered on with little thought of what lay beneath them except where it might trip them. So they missed tiny pink flowers growing at the edges, all unexpected – flowers I had never seen there before. (Their seeds blew in on a westerly, I suppose, or were walked there by some gardener with dirty shoes. They had the sweetest sense about them, as if they were happy with where they grew. Ants clambered over their petals. Bumblebees bobbed in their scent. But I digress .... Or better to say, I linger ...)

This is the kind of thing destination-seekers everywhere miss constantly. But it's not entirely what I meant about their poor experience of a path ...

If they had slowed their feet, opened their hearts, they might have noticed places where a tree arched over the path, or roots rose in intricate weavings – and they might have sensed that they were crossing a threshold. For paths are a stitchwork of territory, and the mindful traveller is aware when the mood changes, and is full of wonder as to who may be watching her go. A deer perhaps, or a small black bird, or a fey creature beyond our awareness. My own paths, being coastal, and under mountains, in a wild dreaming land, call always for caution. I don't know exactly who holds their territories, perhaps the memories of miners, or a spirit of stone, or a coterie of trees who live in that zone. But I always pause when I enter one, and say thanks when I go. Good manners are just as strange – or as reasonable – as barging on through, depending on your perspective.

And then there is the problem of time. It's not too bad on a earth track, or a paved roadway. But when your path rambles and heaves and breaks open through the rootwork of old trees and deeper stone, then you are walking on wilded ground. Time does not exist on such ground – any ground, really. Time is only a beat inside our own minds. But its easier to stray out of our own kilter when we take a tangly road. And we don't notice until later that our watches have gone a little slow, or we've misjudged when we need to be heading home. I know most of the snags on my summer paths; that is of course the blessing of living long in one place. Or maybe it is just the way I walk.

I'm nothing special, not at all. I was just taught from a young age by paths that are tough with memory and ghosts, and now I want to tell you about it, to share the perspective. Those childhood paths demanded my attention and I, already primed to story by the forest of my winter home, was happy to walk them, talk with them, as if they were people or books. Plenty of times I just go places, like other people do. But best of all I love to loiter, and to have a conversation with the way. I've never felt the wanderlust of so many in my generation. They go far, but there's a depth that can be travelled too.

I will admit it hurts me when I see people trudging around with no awareness except of themselves and where they want to go. It's not only that it's disrespectful to the path which serves them, but that it seems to do a psychic harm to the stone. After all, it was laid down to meet with walkers. It offers a relationship. And most people just move on through.

Some paths feel so lonely. Some feel like they have turned away from people, gone within their silence, and those are the dangerous ones, because you can not trust where they might carry you. Other paths call for walkers, call and call, and if they are lucky they will be visited by someone who will talk with them, foot and stone, wonder and memory, and who will journey rather than just travel.