Happy Thanksgiving

November 22, 2021

I am grateful to you, my readers, for almost ten years of blogging!

Photo: Larry Smith

I once had a turkey challenge me to a race. I was cycling down a country road, and the turkey trotted along beside me. I started cycling faster, and then the turkey started racing me! The encounter ended at a draw when we reached a copse of trees and the turkey had to take wing.

After Samhain

November 5, 2021

We’re waiting for the first snow now. Mornings are frosty, and I’m putting the car in the garage overnight again. I just finished a long article about the giant Huwawa. I’ll have a link next week.

I needed a cemetery; I never ordered death

October 29, 2021
The road there

I stopped by this cemetery in the middle of a busy day to take gothic photographs for my Samhain blogpost. Unexpectedly, I ran across the graves of two friends of mine, David and Paula McDonough. He died in 2013 and she died this past year. I didn’t know they were buried in this cemetery. They owned the hardware store in my village and I saw them often, usually at the store but sometimes other places. The store recently sold, which felt wrong, even though they could hardly run it while they were dead.

Gothics Mountain and Great Range

My relationship with death is usually rather detached, especially in cemeteries. I visit this cemetery several times a year, at night or in the early evening, to watch the sky with other amateur astronomers. I pass it on the road regularly. The place is pretty, but familiar and even banal. I’ve decided this is where I want to be buried, so already it feels a little like home.

The cemetery smells like the thyme used as groundcover

I can’t say what I was feeling today was grief, exactly, because we’re told grief is so many things. It is anger and guilt and sadness and apathy. It is trying to remember and trying to forget. What I felt today was a wishing that would not abate in intensity for being told it could not be satisfied. I disliked knowing that things never stay the same. Losing David was bearable while Paula was still around. She confided she didn’t care much for the store, but kept it going in his memory.

Sheep atop a headstone that reads: Anna B, daughter of William and Margaret Taylor, 1903-1917

I stayed in the cemetery a long time, waiting for the feeling of emptiness and loss to pass, but it never did. Eventually a crow flew close to me and cawed loudly, and I left.

Here is an excerpt from the sixth tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, recorded in the second millenium, B.C.E.:

Do we build a house forever?
Do we seal a contract for all time?
Do brothers divide shares forever?
Does hostility last forever between enemies?
Does the river forever rise higher, bringing on floods?. . . . . . . .
From the beginning there is no permanence.

Review: The Dangerous Old Woman

October 22, 2021

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was introduced to The Secret Dakini Oracle, a deck of cards (unfortunately out-of-print) loosely based on the Dakinis, fierce Tantric goddesses somewhat analogous to the Crone archetype in Western culture. It was when I saw the card that incorporated this photo of an anonymous old spinster that I decided I had to have this deck. The young women in my cohort loved anything related to “The Crone,” mostly because we saw it as subversive. Too bad The Dangerous Old Woman wasn’t there for us back then. Clarissa Pinkola Estes correctly states that the stories about the heroine confronting the old woman are really recorded for the young woman.

This audiobook has actually been out for about ten years, but I only discovered it this year. I had mixed feelings about Dr. Estes’s first book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, and I can only relate my impression at that time, as I remember it, because I gave my copy away. On the one hand, I loved Dr. Estes’s retelling of Bluebeard and many of her insights about the tale. That alone was worth the price of the book. I was put off, however, by the Jungian flavor of much of her prose. I wasn’t alone in this assessment, even at that time. Recently, a young radical feminist book group chose to read Wolves and gave up in frustration, deeming it “too patriarchal.” I think they were probably reacting to Carl Jung and Dr. Estes’s training as Jungian analyst.

Because The Dangerous Old Woman is immediate, heart-centered, and personal, unencumbered by psychoanalytic definitions and terms. Dr. Estes draws on stories of women in her family, relating multi-generational and cross-cultural experience to fairytale and myth, making the wise woman tales refreshingly contemporary. Dr. Estes has a marvelous storytelling voice that feels conversational, even though the material is very focused. I found the stories from Eastern European immigrant culture fascinating and exotic, yet the stories from Latina culture gave me a warm nostalgic feeling from my years of living in the Southwest.

This is a recording to be savored. I would have loved The Dangerous Old Woman when I was a young woman and found it revelatory, yet as a woman now well into the second half of her life I could only nod and say “Uh-huh, uh-huh” to the lessons Dr. Estes draws from her material. This audiobook is a jewel. Even if you had trouble relating to the author’s earlier work, check this one out.

A Watery Fall

October 15, 2021

I’ve been seeing a lot of mushrooms in the woods the past month. Usually it’s late spring/early summer when mushrooms are abundant. To me, mushrooms have a fairy association, and of course an association with water.

This picture may look like it’s upside down, but it’s Chalis Pond on a clear day.

This Red-spotted Newt was very patient and co-operative.

The Mountain Ash is related to the European Rowan.

Mid October and still no snow on Giant Mountain.

Happy trails!

The Brindled Fairy Beast

October 8, 2021

A brindle is streaked pattern, too vague to be called a stripe, found on dogs, horses, cattle, wolves, cats, guinea pigs, and moths. Note that these are usually domestic animals. The most prized brindle pattern is orange and black, but brindled animals can also be black, white, and gray.

Brindle Moth. Photo: Ben Sale

The brindled animal is ascribed as fairy animal, with the ability to move between worlds. The Book of Taliesin mentions a brindled ox.

I shall not deserve much from those with long shields.
They know not what day, who the causer,
What hour in the serene day Cwy was born.
Who caused that he should not go to the dales of Devwy.
They know not the brindled ox, thick his head-band.
Seven score knobs in his collar.
And when we went with Arthur of anxious memory,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vandwy.

A brindled cat is more commonly called a tortoiseshell. The First Witch in Shakespeare’s Macbeth declares “Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed,” signifying it is time to begin her magic. (“Brinded” is an older form of brindled.)

The following anecdote, which I shared in Invoking Animal Magic (found in Patrick W. Gainer’s Witches Ghosts and Signs), features a brindled dog.

Brindled dog. Photo: Peter Theakston

In the year 1880, in Peach Tree, West Virginia, a large brindled dog appeared that frightened even the meanest dogs. The mean dogs would hide under their houses with their tails between their legs. The brindled dog only appeared at night, never in the daytime. People did not like the dog and began throwing stones to discourage the dog from hanging around. The stones would pass completely through the body. The intervention of the preacher was sought, and he shot the dog five times from five feet away— but each bullet passed through the dog’s body as if it were air. Finally, after three weeks of harassment, the brindled dog went away, never to return.

This incident may or may not have occurred at this time and place. The mention of the year suggests that it really happened, while the “brindle” in the dog supports the idea that this is an old fairy story that came over to the Western Hemisphere from the British Isles. Perhaps both.

Brindle guinea pig. Photo: fokusnatur

Further reading:

Invoking Animal Magic: A guide for the pagan priestess by Hearth Moon Rising. https://www.amazon.com/Invoking-Animal-Magic-Guide-Priestess/dp/1780999291

Raid on the Otherword from the Book of Taliesin https://web.archive.org/web/20080411103302/http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t30.html

The Dog Ghost of Peach Tree in Witches Ghosts and Signs by Patrick W. Gainer. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1283594.Witches_Ghosts_and_Signs?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=OeXkGIXolk&rank=1

Brindled steer. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith

The Island Mystique

October 1, 2021
On Lake Champlain

Something done a second time is derivative; when it’s done a thousand times, it’s a genre. The mystery novel I’m working on right now is in the island thriller genre. I was inspired by Circe’s island of Aeaea that appears in The Odyssey and by the story of Medusa.

The appeal of the island thriller is the isolation, which allows more intense interaction with the landscape. Who can forget the topography of the island in Robinson Crusoe? I think the isolation also brings more intensity to character interactions. People can’t escape one another on an island.

Another island tale that inspires me is P.D. James’s The Lighthouse. My island will also have a lighthouse. It’s an element that can’t be left out – lighthouses are so spooky and romantic at the same time. Also, my island is on Lake Champlain, which has lots of lighthouses. It is a fictional island, but a composite of Isle la Motte, Grand Isle, and Valcour Island. I used the place name Peregrine, as in Peregrine Cottage in the James novel. James was a devout Christian and peregrine has overtones of pilgramage. For me, the word has not only the suggestion of wandering found in The Odyssey, but the association with the Peregrine Falcon. Circe is a falcon goddess.

I learned recently that James wrote this novel when she was 85, which I find inspiring and a bit comforting. I admired the way James used the SARS Corona Virus One in this novel to great effect. I incorporate COVID-19 into the fabric of my own novel. Doing so worries me, because agents are writing DO NOT SEND ANYTHING ABOUT A PANDEMIC!!!!! in their wish lists. Yet how can the pandemic be written out of a novel that takes place in 2020? I don’t see a way, without it looking contrived. I’ve always thought that novels taking place in the early 1940s, even in the American mainland, which was spared bombing, to feel quite odd if there is no mention of the war.

One of my favorite island movie mysteries is Dolores Claiborne, based on the novel by Stephen King. Kathy Bates’s performance in that movie is one that deserves a prominent place in cinematic history. I like not only the sinister tone of the movie, but the unflinching gaze at class divides.

Another island movie I like is Triangle at Rhodes, based on the Agatha Christie novel. The camera work in this movie is strikingly beautiful and profound. I usually consider films that linger on scenery annoyingly pretentious, but I wished in this one that the camera would hold the images a few more frames.

Christie’s most well known island mystery And Then There Were None is echoed in Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, which takes place in this century on an island off the coast of Mexico. By the end of that novel, I was more than reconciled to the death of the protagonist.

A classic in the island thriller genre is The Tempest, which believe it or not I’m unfamiliar with. The plot sounds entirely up my alley, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see this one performed, and I don’t like to read Shakespeare’s plays. I found a movie version that I’m looking forward to watching. If I like it, I’ll write a review.

September 24, 2021