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

Giants of the Northeast Woodlands

September 17, 2021

There have been persistent reports of large human or human-like beings who inhabit the woods in the northeastern United States and Canada. They are hairy and very shy. They reportedly like to throw sticks and rocks at cars, but otherwise are seldom seen.

A word for these beings used by Algonquian-speaking tribes is Yakwawi (plural: Yakwawiak). They are sometimes called Sasquatch, a word which comes from the American Pacific coast. The ubiquity of reports of these beings around the world has led some to speculate that they are not-too-distant cousins of homo sapiens, another offshoot of homo erectus. Natives of the northeast woodlands describe Yakwawi as a type of bear.

I have never seen a Yakwawi, although I have heard things hit my car a few times. I’m always interested in the reports of others.

Found poem: On reading Rumi, while not reading Rumi

September 3, 2021

I decided to tempt fate again and wait until Thursday to schedule my weekly blog. Here’s hoping the internet holds out.

I was talking to a friend recently about the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. She had never heard of him. In searching for something to show her, I found this old poem of my own that I had forgotten about. I guess it’s more a Spring poem (Everyone should write a Spring poem, said Louise Gluck), but it’s apropos because it’s timely.

Life Interferes with Reading Rumi

I want to read Rumi
But my cat believes this is the time to pet.
She’s batting paws on the page
Wet nose pushing against my fingers.

I want to read Rumi
But I hear the carpenter puttering in the garage
And a conversation must be had
about a broken window.

There are times to contemplate life’s mysteries
Times to reminisce about a blissful moment
Times to reflect on insight glimpsed
between pages, within pictures, inside symphonic movements.

That time is not today.
Leave the musty books indoors.
We will stroll to the river this pestering day
Hear the giggle of persistent water
Greet the greeny tree buds opening

And read Rumi.

Ten Years Later

August 27, 2021

Couldn’t schedule my post yesterday due to internet outage. Spotty broadband reliability is one of the issues with rural living.

This weekend marks the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Irene. An incredible amount of rain (17 inches where I live) was dumped here in about a day, plus all the runoff from the High Peaks. I counted fourteen major landslides, and the Ausable River changed course in places.

About a third of the properties in the area sustained damage. Businesses were devastated. All roads out of the area were impassable for a few days, and many roads were wiped out. There were casualties in the Catskills and Vermont, though thankfully none in the Adirondacks. Vermont lost many of its iconic covered bridges.

The reason the impact of Irene in the Keene, Wilmington, and Jay areas isn’t more widely known is that not many people live here. The worst geographical impact was on state land, though the communities downstream were hit hard. Unfortunately, some people decided after Irene that they were done here. Nobody can blame them, but we appreciate people who persevered through the long process of recovery.

For better or worse, Irene was how the area got limited cell coverage. The governor’s assistant was here to assess damage and he was amazed when he was directed to a certain field where a signal was maybe sometimes available if the wind was right. There was a working cell tower in the area within a few days.

What I remember most about Irene was how we came together as a community to rebuild, and how people from downstate, who hike and vacation here and love the area as much as we do, came up to help. It was a long slow process that took much love. A film about Irene premiered last week, and I was pleasantly surprised that the focus was more on the rebuilding than the devastation.

Batting around the Rings of Saturn

August 20, 2021

Last week I indulged in one of my favorite activities: going to the cemetery at night to watch bats. I’m happy to report that the Little Brown Bat population in my corner of the world appears to be healthy.

Isn’t he adorable? Photo: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

I caught the end of the Perseid shower and saw a stunning meteor with a long tail just after dusk. A man named Kevin was there with his telescope and I saw the rings of Saturn and four moons of Jupiter. On this evening, Jupiter appeared brighter in the sky than Venus. It has to do with Jupiter being opposite the Sun right now.

I just finished a piece for Return to Mago for next month that will begin looking at defensive magic. In this context, I am interested in the Mesopotamian giant Huwawa and the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed him. The three appeared to me in a recent meditative journey. Huwawa looked like he does in the frescoes. Enkidu was thin and gray, in his death form.

Huwawa from second millennium, B.C.E. Photo: Rama

Gilgamesh surprised me. There is a popular theory right now that the Sumerians were a black-skinned people, based on the name for themselves ,”the black-headed people.” Since the Sumerians also say that they came by boat from a land to the south, this is plausible. However, Gilgamesh looked as if he could be a typical man from present-day Iraq, only hairier and more buff. He had dark hair mixed with gray and a very long full beard. Only a little of his face showed in all that black-gray beard, and it was a good-natured face.

Gilgamesh killing the Bull of Heaven, another really bad thing he did. Second millennium, B.C.E.

Mesopotamian culture was multi-ethnic, before and after the arrival of the Sumerians, so this appearance of Gilgamesh doesn’t really contradict the theory that the Sumerians came from an island off the coast of India. And Gilgamesh may have appeared to me in a later, Akkadian guise. I don’t think this was the first time I’d seen Gilgamesh either; only the first time that I recognized him.

I’m not sure how to feel about Gilgamesh. He does some bad things, some cowardly things, and some bone-headed things in his “epic,” and the narrative doesn’t attempt to put a positive spin on his actions. I think about him a lot, however, and I’m looking forward to writing about him and his adventures.