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Sometimes it’s difficult to find out where things on the web originate. I came across this photograph this evening on Facebook.
I think Margaret is a native Australian Aboriginal woman. Her photograph and dream touched me very deeply. I never met either of my grandmothers. I have Muscogee blood on my father’s side of the family, but don’t have any connection with any of my Muscogee kin or culture. This saddens me.
I wrote the following Fairy Tale about three years ago when I was a member of an online community called Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist. This post has been sitting in my ‘Drafts’ box for two years. Maybe waiting for this moment. So here it is:
Las dos Melindas
Once upon a time, a baby girl was born. Her parents named her after her great grandmother, Melindy Crabtree, a woman no longer alive. These were some of the stories they told about her:
She and her mother and her mother’s mother came from a fertile land thickly wooded and criss-crossed with free flowing rivers. She could speak the language of the forest and knew where to find medicine plants. At the full moon, she would go to a well and talk to a wolf, there in the silver moonlight. . . . . But now, her language was forgotten and the places of these happenings were long gone. Her eyes which had lovingly witnessed the forest and rivers and all of the inhabitants there – two-legged, four-legged, winged and scaled, and held them in her care, had closed long ago.
But this newborn babe has her great grandmother’s eyes and sees the beauty of the world in the morning sun slanting through the bedroom window. She has her grandmother’s ears and hears the language of the forest in the windy trees. The breeze and leaves whisper to her,
‘We have given you her name.
You are the child who hears the call to home.
The one who can speak the ancient language,
The one who remembers.’
Then, a few years older, up and out at dawn. A backyard explorer. The little one who finds red salamanders beneath the stones, collected from a desert river . . . . .
and lily of the valley growing secretly behind the garage. Rising early and into the sleepy garden to listen to spiders spinning stories and to pick the dew-dropped roses.
The girl who halts the games of tag and hide-and-seek to watch the sunset and climbs onto the roof at dawn to see a comet. She has not forgotten.
When she was twelve, only once ever and never before that day and never after that day, a vee of geese flew honking far above the suburbs, flying south.
‘Don’t forget’, they say, ‘soon you’ll stop hearing and seeing the beauty all around, but deep in your soul you won’t forget. We won’t let you forget.’
In the hard years that followed, she did stop seeing and hearing, in the struggle to survive being a girl in a time and place that was not friendly or safe. But, now and again, a beautiful sunset or pelicans following the shoreline after a day at the beach or, once, an hour spent playing with a dog in a mountain stream – these things would remind her of who she is. A Creek Indian princess with royal blood flowing through her veins and the fluent tongue of the river flowing from her lips.
Still, an iron band grew around her heart and stilled her tongue and silenced her hands.
This band kept her from remembering who she is and from speaking the truth about her people and the destruction of their lands and the winged and four-legged and scaled brothers and sisters who were and are in peril. About the ancestor’s story and how it affects us today. About how the land and the birds and animals and fish have fallen into despair over the loss of the people who could speak the language of the forest.
This girl grew into a woman, still silent, still half remembering, half forgetting. Yet, deep in her soul remained the memory, the flame, the truth, and every now and then, she would recognize a piece of music or artwork or a writing which had this same flame of truth, of what was true for someone who took the risk to say or write or paint or dance it. And this was good.
These encounters kept her flame burning, not so forgotten, but still hidden. The iron band made sure to keep it hidden, for if the wrong people saw the flame, it could be very dangerous for her and her people. It was still dangerous to tell their story, to tell the truth.
After a number of years had passed, the woman found her way to a doorway. It felt different from the many doorways she had encountered and gone through in her life. This one felt right, welcoming and safe, but like an adventure was on the other side. A thick sturdy oak door with beautiful iron hinges and a handle which just fit into her hand, like it was made for her.
A warm glow came through the keyhole. Looking down, she noticed that she was holding a key in her hand. An iron key which matched the hinges on the door. The key to this door!
She put the key in the lock, turned it and pushed the door open. The room was beautiful, rounded and lined with wood. Thick soft rugs carpeted the floor. Windows and skylights looked outside, but it was twilight now. The candles lit in the room reflected on the glass, reflected the room back to her. Here, a table laid with her favourite food, just exactly what she craved right now. There, a soft, inviting bed welcomed her to rest after she had eaten.
By and by, she awoke to sunlight and the murmur of soft voices. She opened another door and stepped into a flower filled courtyard. There were kind, compassionate, loving people standing in a circle, which opened at her doorway.
‘Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you to arrive’.
When she opened her mouth and spoke the language of the forest, everyone understood just what she was saying. The woman looked into her hand and found that she held a delicate golden key. As she took her place in the circle, the iron bands around her heart and hands dissolved and fell away.
Happily ever after?
We don’t know, as the story is still unfolding. Now the woman has remembered the fluent river language. From her days and nights and years of wandering in the desert, she can witness and speak of the endless beauty of the world and of the unbearable pain and agony of exile from it. She has vowed to the ancestors to unflinchingly tell the truth, to tell their story. Using her words, no longer silent, and her hands, no longer still.
The ancestors say,
‘We have given you her name.
You are gifted with the vision to see deeply into the heart of things –
to see the beauty and the pain.
You have the language to tell our story.’
Who will listen and will they be able to hear?
Who will look and be able to see?
The ending of the story depends on everyone.
Sometimes it can be hard to move beyond, or to do better than our Mother. Maybe more so, maybe less so, if our Mom isn’t around any longer.
My last Mother’s Day with my Mom was in 1979. I was 15. She was 55. I can’t remember anything special about that day. She died from cancer on January 20th, 1980.
My Mom, Nell, found her breast lump around 1974-5. She sought medical attention in late 1978. The lump matasticized a few months later and she died in less than a year. I have some ideas about why she waited so long. At one point, maybe when it was too late to make a difference, she asked me what she should do. I said something like, ‘Whatever you think is best”. I was 15.
Sometime during my mid-twenties, I vowed that if I ever found anything unusual in my breasts, I would seek medical attention immediately. I had a benign lump removed in 2007. The doctor said it would be OK to leave it, but based on my family history, he recommended removing it, just so it won’t be a distraction if anything else came up. Which I had done.
A few weeks ago I found a small lump in one of my breasts. I went to the doctor the following week. (I live in England, which has the National Health Service, so all of this is free BTW). She said, “This is not a problem, but I’ll fast-track you for an appointment at the Breast Unit in Exeter to put your mind at ease”. My health centre called me at home an hour later with an appointment.
I went two Fridays ago and the specialist who examined me said it feels completely benign and normal, but again, he’ll fast-track me an appointment for a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy (if needed). Again, this was based on the fact that I was worried. I felt very emotional when I went on that day, I think because I’m around the age that my Mom was when she found her lump. I don’t think the emotion was completely due to being afraid I might die, like my Mom. I think it also had to do with my Mom not choosing to go and get her breast lump checked out when it was an early stage.
Last week, at my third and final appointment, the doctor said the lump that I felt, and there are a few other lumps hanging about which he showed me on the sonogram screen are harmless cysts that will probably disappear when I’m 75.
So, that was a great ending. I chose Life when I went to the doctor straightaway. And I choose life. My life feels really good right now. Steve and I are coming up to our 2nd wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. We set the goals together of losing some of our Epicurean-Gourmet lifestyle excess weight and of re-decorating our flat. We’ve nearly reached them and feels great! I’m thinking about what other goals I’d like to set.
I’m starting to explore ways that I can use my counselling skills in paid work. Maybe as a Creativity Coach or as a Creative Arts Therapist, in person and even via Skype with artistic people.
Good things are happening with getting my artwork out there. Enter the Forest of Dreams is going to be shown in Birmingham this summer and I’ll be in Devon Open Studios in September. My new website is going to be amazing and I’m planning to open an ETSY shop (but I promise to keep it low key!).
My Mom wasn’t having a happy life when she was my age and I don’t know how that influenced her choices about her health care. I wish that she could have had a happier life. I don’t know if she ever found what she was looking for, but I hope that for her. I like to think that perhaps the fact that I’ve learnt from some of her mistakes and have made many micro-choices along the way in the direction of Positivity, has a good impact on her now. When we do healing work on the crap that was passed down through our ancestral line, it heals our ancestors as well as us.
Sometimes it can feel difficult to go farther or live a better life than one’s Mother, but it’s a good thing to do.
I really loved her.
I used to love making her a card for her birthday and for Mother’s Day. I’d either buy or make her a present too. Here’s the card I made for her in 1975.
Full March Moon tonight.
To Colonial Americans: The Fish Moon; to the Cherokee and some Celts: The Windy Moon, or Moon of Wind;
to this Muscogee (Creek) Indian woman:
The Moon of the Winding Fish,
who swims sometimes with the current,
sometimes against the flow,
lazily spins in eddies,
dives deep into limpid pools,
Tonight, after making my bed, The Forest of Dreams, with 500 thread count, sateen weave, Supima cotton sheets and placing the River of Dreams quilt over it, my bed feels complete. By the way, I just looked this up and apparently, Supima cotton is ‘Superior Pima’.
“Supima cotton will have superior strength to a product made of
upland cottonor upland/Pima blended cottons,
which will improve the durability and
increase the lifespan of the textile and apparel products.
Because of the fineness of Supima cotton,
more fibers can be spun into a yarn of a given count,
which will enhance the feel and softness,
drapeability and brilliance of color of a fabric.”
That explains the visual and tactile sheen they give off. And they’re a beautiful soft shade of mushroom brown, or mouse fur, or certain very smooth stones or summer sun-dried river mud. And it’s from the American Southwest, just like me!
This morning, I washed the grime and bird poo off of the headboard and fastened the quilt back into place on it. I pushed the bed into it’s place, in the corner of our salon near the windows which face south and from where we can chart nearly the full course of the sun and the moon’s journeys across the sky, from rise to set.
Anyhow, I just went into the salon to check and see how my bed is doing while the yarg was melting on my baked potato. The rising moon is shining through the window onto the two fish swimming down the River of Dreams. Yes, there are two fish. Some of you know that a pair of fish wind their way into many of my art quilts.
It’s tricky to photograph by moonlight, but I captured the way the light falls through the window panes onto the diamond shapes of the forest floor and across the sinuous river.
I’ve always loved to camp near a river. Steve’s away tonight. Perhaps I’ll sleep in the Forest of Dreams and flow with the River of Dreams.
On this Full March Moon of the Winding Fish
Twelfth Night is a festival in some branches of Christianity marking the coming of the Epiphany and concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas.
It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking”. However, there is currently some confusion as to which night is Twelfth Night: some count the night of Epiphany itself (sixth of January) to be Twelfth Night. One source of this confusion is said to be the Medieval custom of starting each new day at sunset, so that Twelfth Night precedes Twelfth Day. In some cases the 25 December is the first day of Christmas, so therefore 5 January is the 12th day.
At any rate, tonight we’re celebrating Twelfth Night by taking down our Holy Day decorations. We ate, drank and made much merry over the festive season and it’s time to get back to business, look forward into the New year and see the deepest, bleakest part of the winter through.
I’ve set myself a couple of important quilting goals. I’m entering a juried quilt show in Germany at the end of February and am working on a piece for that, based on one of my South Bank photos. Techniques include digital imagery onto fabric, machine stitch & applique and painting. I’m working on a very large scale with cotton organdie and it’s exciting, challenging, frustrating and rewarding. In that order!
I’m also going to have my studio open to the public on 10th March in conjunction with the 4th annual Moretonhampstead Festival of Food, Drink and the Arts. I’ll display the bed I made in furniture school, ‘Enter The Forest of Dreams’ for the first time since 1999. I’m making a beautiful quilt to cover the bed from silk, taffeta, corduroy, silk velvet and other sumptuous fabrics.
It all feels really good and I’m really ready to focus on the hands on, material (tee hee!) work. Tonight, I got my pretty, new (just a few months old) Canon G12 out and played around with the tripod and some lowlight night shots of our Twelfth Night.
I made a little altar to some of my artistic heroines: Georgia O’Keeffe - painter, represented by ‘One Hundred Flowers’ , Red Poppies, 1925; Lee Miller – photographer, represented by ‘The Lives of Lee Miller’; Tracey Emin, artist, represented by the postcard ‘Running Naked, 2011′; Diane Arbus – photographer, represented by the photo ‘Melinda Schwakhofer in Tiger Costume, 1966′ and my Muse – represented by a plaster cast I made of my face.
‘Fortitude’ is the word which has chosen me for 2012. I think of strong tree trunks and stout hearts of oak. I feel that I am entering the forest of dreams. Shortly before his death, Robert Schumann dreamt an angel, possibly the spirit of either Schubert or Mendelssohn, dictated a “spirit theme” to him. What a beautiful gift and vision (even if he was going ‘mad’). I wonder which, or if perhaps all, of my artistic angels will inspire and encourage me on my Journey and what gifts they’ll bring. I know I’ll be rewarded with Fortitude, because each of these remarkable women either came through some tough times, or pioneered right smack over the edge of what ‘everybody else’ was doing, or both.
Blessings on your Journey into the New Year. May your guide(s) be with you.
So we take our Holy Day decorations down and sing ‘The old year now is fled away, the new year it is enteréd . . . . God send us a happy new year!’
The 25th of November. The eve of Thanksgiving 2011 in Moretonhampstead, my home town in my adopted country England. In America, Thanksgiving is all about feasting with family and friends; the people we want to gather round us or travel near or far to be with. We have eight lovely friends coming for dinner mid-afternoon tomorrow. Some from around the corner, some from further afield (more than 10 miles hence) and some from even further afield (the other side of the country!).
This is my favorite American holiday and one that tugs deeply at me, even though my home is now on British soil. Steve and I planned the menu to include many of my beloved childhood Thanksgiving dishes – Heavenly Hash, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Frank’s Pea and Cheese Salad.
We shopped and started cooking today. I had to order miniature marshmallows, canned pumpkin (Libby’s), Nabisco Graham Crackers and ‘Nilla Wafers online. But the supermarket was a breeze (Sssssssh! . . . . . no one knows it’s Thanksgiving over here!) This is our third Thanksgiving together and it’s already one of the best ever. Even though Steve has yet to experience Thanksgiving on American soil, he enthusiastically joins in. We love to entertain and host our friends, I am so thankful that he and I share this together and with others.
Tonight Steve and I made Gingered Nuts & homemade onion dip (tomorrow’s appetizers w/ Prosecco), three different pie crusts – Gingersnap pecan, short crust & Graham Cracker for Punkin Pie, Chocolate Pecan Pie and Maple Syrup Cheesecake w/ Roasted Pears , respectively, rinsed the brined turkey and made homemade corn bread for the stuffing.
I have a tin pie pan my cousin Cynthia gave to me in 1997, when I was still living in California. She’d come out from Virginia to visit her sister (and my cousin Lanneau) and brought me an apple pie from the Julian Pie Co., near San Diego. I keep the pie pan under my flour sifter (where we always kept one when I was growing up). Once a year, it comes into service in its intended use, as a vessel for my pecan pie. All of these childhood memories, connections to foods and people, are woven into the dinner preparations.
Tonight, following on the success of our cocktail party two weeks ago (details to follow, but in the meantime here’s a teaser) we tried a Green Ginger Wine, Vodka & Cointreau concoction. After a very full and productive day, time to have a well-earned sleep.
In the morning, the pies will be assembled and baked, the bird stuffed and cooked, the vegetables prepared, and setting up our kitchen and dining tables for ten to gather round. Then the welcoming of guests and the enjoyment of each other’s company and fine food, lovingly prepared and shared.