Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Words We Leave Behind

I've been traveling all summer - researching the novel, giving talks for work, visiting family, exploring, seeking enchantment, and finding always new places always to knit myself into that begin to feel like a part of home. But there is simply no substitute for the place where I grew up - these fields and farms and gently humped hills of upstate New York, where the leaves are beginning to turn, the golden rod bends on long stalks in the wind, the bend of the road I have come to know so well. 
My view from the computer, Cooperstown, NY

It was a blink of a trip to Ithaca on the way to a wedding in Cooperstown, but home never ceases to bring me close again to my father. It's as though his power is stronger here, in these hills he loved so well, and he whispers close to let me know, I am here, always, in ways that are both small and glorious. 
Backroads of the Finger Lakes, wine country

In my sister's old bedroom, this book caught my eye on the shelf among nearly one hundred others - T.S. Eliot's Collected Poems, and I pulled it from the shelf only to flip through and find my father's precise markings in pencil, where he'd pondered over the meaning of the words, such a very smart man, would that I had one hundredth of his literary know-how. His fingers on the page, the smudge of time and the lead of a number 7, the words he left behind, the words that Eliot left behind, and just seeing it all, there on a page that I could touch, run my fingers over, touching so many imprints in time. 

Later, I fancied my father reminded me where the fresh water spring was, on the winding 79 east - it's on the side of the road in Lisle and if you blink, you'll miss it, but it has white pvc pipes that spout the cleanest, coldest water, and I filled my water bottle from the car just like we always did. 

He was there in Cooperstown last night, when I walked out of the restaurant, and felt that nudge that let me know I'd forgotten my leather coat hanging on the wall. Smiling, I mentioned it to my husband, "I felt like Dad reminded me," and we stepped onto the sidewalk only to see a giant turkey feather decorating the front window of a nearby car - agreement. 

Tomorrow will find me heading back south to the land of the salt marsh and pines, to the lowcountry that has claimed a part of me, too, but I realize as I write on the back porch of this hotel, over looking the farm country that my eyes have come to know so well, that I have words, too, I want to leave behind. Finding that book was just a little gift, a reminder. We are all here, we all leave our fingerprints for others to discover. And it's the discovery of it, truly, that is the greatest gift of all. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney

I am heavy-hearted this morning, hearing about the loss of one of the world's greatest poets. I hope you are drinking from a bright cup, Mr. Seamus Heaney. A snippet from a beautiful poem of his about being in the world and the fragility, the impermanence of it all. 

Blackberry Picking, by Seamus Heaney

"Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
[...] Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not."

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Question & Answer: Young Reader's Brother Inadvertently Offends Faery

The question that came over Twitter: "Help me...I need to apologize to the faeries for my brother - there was a fairy trying to get to me and he kicked it away. So how do I tell them I'm sorry? He doesn't know faeries exist and I don't want to tell him they do cause he would be laughing at me."
Connecting with my favorite Apple Tree
Chalice Well Gardens, England

First of all, brothers can be the worst. You have my sympathies, friend. Siblings in general, especially when we are young, know exactly what ticks us off and are supreme experts at general harassment conducted for the sheer enjoyment of one person alone: themselves. This is also what, when you're older, makes siblings most lovable, and as a bonus it will also provide lots of moments of laughter when you get together years down the road. As in, "Remember that time you kicked my feet out from under me after you had convinced me to put my arms into the sides of my overalls, and promised, 'I will catch you.'?" This might have happened to me. But now we can laugh about it. And there is something special about being the sole focus of another person's attention in life, even if it is only so they can see when you're not looking and steal part of your dinner.

In the earnest quest to relate to the spirits of nature, respect is the number one quality that is needed. Luckily,  you are the one looking to connect with faeries, not your sometimes evil brother! : -) And it sounds like you are very kind and respectful. You can only control your actions, and I can assure you that the faeries don't blame you for anything your brother might do. Your problem brings up an issue with "faery-hunting" that I too have encountered. It is better to seek to relate to faeries or nature spirits when you are alone. Other people, especially the sorts of skeptics who are not so keen on being respectful of other people's beliefs, can really put a damper on your ability to reach out and have an experience. You might find it helpful to carry out some of your faery investigations like an undercover detective. That's what I often do. Try to find some quiet time in the outdoors alone, bring a book, perhaps, as your "foil" - if anyone sees you, they'll think you're just outside reading. But really, you can be sitting there and with your mind, reaching out to the faeries. Talk to them about whatever is on your mind. Leave them a little gift somewhere - a daisy chain you've made, a feather, a sea shell, or some fruit, a little chocolate, or cheese. Tell them that you love them and appreciate everything they're doing to support our beautiful planet. This will help you connect in no time. And you can make an apology for your brother if you like by simply telling them that you're sorry he kicked at them. But these sorts of things happen to faeries all the time, and they understand that some humans are more interested in having a relationship with them than others.

And this is totally okay.
Everyone needs the freedom to come to their unique spiritual beliefs in their own time. What we believe in is sacred - whatever it is, so long as it is about being kind, and good, and makes us try to be better people. And there are many people who don't even believe that. Whether you decide to share your beliefs with your brother or not, know that it's okay if people don't believe the same things you do. He will probably make fun of you. And find new ways to pick on you. So in this case, yes, it might be best to keep your mission of relating to the faery world to yourself when it comes to Brother. But all you can do is find your own way by relating to the world in the way that you feel is good, and right. That's all that counts. That's what the spirit world, whatever it is filled with, be it God or gods, faeries, tree spirits or ghosts or whatever it may be, will notice.

It is then, that your adventures will truly begin!

Wishing you every enchantment,
Finding feathers in Munich, Germany

Hanging out with the spirits of the River Teign
Devon, England

Friday, June 14, 2013

Devon's Magical Places: Dispatches from the Road

Making your way along the narrow path that twists through the rugged moor, you'd never expect to find a hidden oasis of lush green oaks: perhaps that's what makes Wistman's Wood so special, the fact that these ancient twisted trees have threaded themselves into the valley crag at all, withstanding long months of whipping wind and lashing weather. Or perhaps what makes Wistman's Wood feel so special, is the fact that it has been a special place for thousands of years.

While the majority of moss-covered oaks you'll see today seem to be only 400 - 500 years old (still nothing to sneeze at), legend has it that Wistman's Wood was an ancient sacred grove of the Druids, who would have been pushed into Wales and Cornwall in the 6th and 7th centuries by the encroaching Angles and Saxons in this area of Dartmoor. So if folk memory dictates that it did belong to the Druids, (or simply, the people living here who would have practiced the old ways of the Celtic religion) the trees we see now would be descendants of the original grove that existed then.  
Embarking on our journey

Wistman's Wood

We know visitors to the wood in the 1620's found it looking much as it does today - a stunted grove of mainly oak trees, but including rowan, holly, and willow trees as well, covered in a thick green carpet of moss. And it is still just as magical. I traveled there with my beautiful friend Sarah Class, a talented composer, her most recent project being the complete musical score for BBC's "Africa" documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough. She's also a singer-wongwriter who writes lovely music about nature and love and worldly things, and I think, if all is right with the world, we ought to be hearing her on the radio soon, because she deserves it. The walk to the wood takes you through the moors, this time of year bursting with yellow sprays of prickly gorse, and up over a hill until you start to stumble over ancient hut circles. These date from the neolithic, so that's pre- 2500 BC, and there are over 100 of them surrounding the wood. If you visit, I would highly recommend spending some time in one of the old stone foundations. The atmosphere is kind and incredibly peaceful, and perhaps you'll even encounter a voice from the past who will guide you through the wood. 
A carved neolithic stone now lies recumbent near a hut circle by Wistman's Wood
If you're lucky, they might even lead you to the Druid Stone, one of the only remaining standing stones on the eastern side of the wood, which when I found it was sheltering a mama and baby sheep. There are no paths through the wood, and some websites warned that the woods are home to dozens of Adders, poisonous black snakes that in late spring and summer will be sunning themselves on the rocks - but  I didn't see anything and never felt a moment of danger. I did pick my steps carefully, and in any case, you want to avoid trodding on the moss and destroying the look of the boulders that are littered throughout the woods. Sarah and I quickly separated to explore each on our own and time slipped away. Before I knew it, I had been quietly sitting on a rock for nearly two hours, though it felt like only one long moment. The quiet of the wood, punctuated only by the occasional footsteps of another explorer or trilling of bird song, lulls you into such a deep and meditative state. I imagine the atmosphere could feel quite wild at nighttime, though I must say, I didn't have the urge to find out. I was stirred from my quiet space by an eerie feeling after a long while, which made me uncomfortable enough that I stood and made my way to find my long lost Sarah toward the river that runs at the foot of the sloping hill. 

There's likely a reason the wood may derive its name from "wisht" meaning spirit, or "Haunted Wood." 
Thanks for the recommendation to visit, which came from several readers. I had a wonderful experience there and thought of you all. 
Finding feathers

The name "Wisman's" may also derive from "Waele"-man's Wood, which is what the Anglo-saxons called it. "Waele" means foreigners, their names (ironically) for the Celts whose home in Britain they were invading. (Don't quote me on the spelling, I read it in an old but reliable book on Dartmoor while I was there, and I'm no Anglo-saxon language aficionado!) The root name is where the country of "Wales" gets its name. Land of the Foreigners. According to the Angles, because that's where they pushed them to. 

Witman's Wood, an oasis of green on the thirsty, windswept moor. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Writing Cottage

This morning I sat on a pile of pillows and wrote my first journal entry from inside the NEWLY RENOVATED SHED. (Which a friend kindly suggested I begin calling "The Writing Cottage.") While that certainly sounds more dignified, I'm not sure Eric and I will ever be able to call it anything other than "The Shed." I owe a huge thank you to my husband - speaking of Eric - who not only agreed to the renovation, but also painted the walls for me, the floor for me (2 laborious coats) and then assembled my desk for me, after it took me nearly two hours to just assemble the drawers. Incidentally, we have decided to launch a lawsuit against the people who okayed the phrase "Some assembly required."
Ladies, if there exists a better definition for the term "knight in shining armor," I don't know what it might be.

When I was a little girl, my room was a cluttered mess of stuffed animals, toys, books, rumpled clothing and paper that stretched from wall-to-wall. I can still remember the dark gray afternoon, humid with thunderstorms in the lazy stretch of summer, when I decided I was going to clean out my closet and make it my very own special hiding place. It was probably only 2' by 3', but after a long days work I had managed to dump everything out of it and clear out a place big enough for a stool and a lamp. Inside the closet, with the door closed, I sat cozy and dry in the cheery light of the lamp reading A Wrinkle in Time. When I was fourteen and began to get interested in things like writing and Runes and meditation, I can remember closing my eyes and wishing, from a quiet place inside myself, that someday I would have a room of my own, just like Virginia Woolf had written of,  a room to dedicate solely to the pursuits that mattered most; a room that could be kept pure from the pain, clatter and clutter of every day life, a room just for me, with a lock and a key and cushions on the floor.

I turned the knob and swung the door of my room open this morning. I lit a stick of incense and sat on the cushions, looking out the window at the thick trunk of the Longleaf Pine, the tender shoots of Canna lily rising from their bed of pine straw and heard the clear call of a cardinal. I felt an unusually cool May morning breeze blow in through the screens, rustling the leaves of the wax myrtle. I could feel images from my new book beginning to usher themselves in, I could feel the possibility of it all. And I cried a little (hence no video tour, as my friend Alex Bledsoe had suggested. I was far too emotional!). Because all I could think of was that wishes really do come true.

They do, they do, I promise you.

We may not know exactly how we will get there, but the magic is in trusting that someday, it will come to pass. Our only jobs are to be good and kind, trust, and then let the rest go. Someday, when our wish has almost been forgotten, you may move to a house in a suburban neighborhood in a new land, and you see it has a dilapidated old garden shed...

I'm so excited to share some pictures with all of you. Not just because you have read my story and become a friend, (or are already a friend or family member) but because I want to share with you this feeling of possibility.

I'll be wishing that all of your deepest wishes come true.





My father's old nightstand
The Longleaf Pine from my writing desk
Cardboard moose head from Steamboat, CO
A crow on my writing chair pillow to signify my connection to black feathers

The brass chandelier was a gift from friends that I then painted

Lynne Wallace-Lee, I found the perfect place for the gift you brought me in December

Friday, March 29, 2013

Messages from Beyond: The Power of Timing

Standing at the edge of Mt. Brandon's waters

"The higher we got, the thicker the mist became, soaking our hair, our made me feel fresh, somehow clean, rugged...We reached the eastern ridge, where the lakes began, a silver chain up the spine of the mountain, silent and still. The only other sound was the haunting call of  a single bird, trilling from nowhere and everywhere at once. The breath off the water was ancient.
At the top of the mountain the wind whipped.... it was then that I realized the entire time I'd been hiking, I'd been seeing them in my mind. Lines and lines of people, trekking up the hill, their feet coming before mine on the ancient stones. I could see their faces. They looked like Celts. Up and up, but only in certain times of the year. Something whispered, This was a special place, a place of pilgrimage, just as it is now, in Christian times. But was it really? Or had I let my imagination get carried away?"- Faery Tale, "Climbing the Lost Druid Mountain" (US paperback edition, p. 240 -241)


My good friend and teacher Shaman Jon once said to me that when it comes to the world of spirit, everything is unveiled in perfect time - not always when you expect it, but for reasons often unknown to us, always exactly when you need it. As a native Hawaiian and Cheyenne Indian, Jon believes that spirit cannot be demanded of, and I believe he is right. This was a lesson I had to learn (and many readers graciously came to terms with) by the end of Faery Tale. All I could do was interpret my journey with the tools and information I had on hand. Mount Brandon in Ireland has been a place that particularly vexed me.

I remember writing to my friend, Peter Guy:
I have a crazy hunch that mountain was an ancient place of pagan worship...

I did extensive research, but in the end, all I could discover was a glimmer of a connection, flimsy at best: the largest lake on the mountain was known as Loch Cruite - "Harp Lake." I made the leap (since the lake was in no way geographically shaped like the musical instrument) that Harp Lake may have been a place name connection to the ancient Bards of Ireland - a class of Druids who specialized in recitation of the epic poems and histories of the Celtic people.

WELL. This past week I had a truly inspiring experience that urged my fingers back to the keyboard in my eagerness to share it with all of you who are familiar with my book. It's a beautiful example of the ways in which a hidden world reveals itself to us, always in perfect timing. Theirs, not ours, of course. Three years after the publication of the book, that another piece of the puzzle slipped into place - and it was with a conscious-shattering jolt, not a click.

I've been reading broadly to research the historical novel I'm working on. Currently on my desk is Nikolai Tolstoy's non-fiction title The Quest for Merlin, (Hodder & Stoughton, 1985) which actually contains a great deal of information on the ancient Celts in general, and specifically in the time period I'm researching. He was discussing the fact that high points were often visited by entire communities for the festival of Lughnasa, (Aug. 1st) that venerated one of the most central gods in the Celtic pantheon, the sun-god Lugh. (Lleu in Welsh.)

It was then that I saw this:

"..Most dramatic of all sites associated with the celebration of Lughnasa in Ireland is Mount Brandon, on the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry. 3,127 feet high, it is the second highest mountain in Ireland...Pilgrims at the season of Lughnasa ascended at dawn an old road leading to the peak. There they prayed, passed nine times around the pillar stone, and drank from the sacred well nearby." (p. 181-182)

Those of you who have had intuitive flashes (which all of us are capable of) that are later verified by actual information can understand the feeling that shot through me. If I hadn't been sitting on an airplane I likely would have screamed in delight. It had to suffice to tap a sleeping Eric on the head and say, "Honey. You will not believe what I just read."

Tolstoy's source was an Oxford paper titled "The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest" (1962).

What I'd seen in my minds eye so vividly on that mountain climb wasn't just some flight of fancy. I'd believed that in my heart, and now, four years after having visited the site, here was my "proof." The feeling was nothing short of elating.

But why now? Why couldn't I have discovered this source amidst the hundreds of other books I'd scoured in researching my book at the time? Why hadn't this information come to light in time for me to include it in my publication of the memoir? It was maddening to consider. But in light of what I've been experiencing personally in working on the new book, it completely made sense.

I'm in the midst of planning and preparing for a six-week research trip abroad for the novel. While I experienced incredibly mystical (and mystifying!) things in the writing of Faery Tale, time passes, and then, and then.... everyday life sinks in, the mundane, the grit and work of it, and the sheer passage of that time - suddenly those experiences can feel woefully far away. We can find ourselves thinking, Well, that was then. Or, Things like that don't happen here, or Things like that don't happen to me anymore. This reminded me that all that worry is nonsense.

The unseen world is always there, regardless of whether we pay attention to it or not. It doesn't hold grudges, and it doesn't keep score. We are always magical, inherently so, and though we may at times feel distant, that never fades. It doesn't pass away, it doesn't fray, and neither does our link to that essential translator that exists within all of us, that umbilical cord that links that world to our own reality: Our intuition. I needed to be reminded of the power of my own intuition once more before I set out on this new journey. The places I will go this summer, the people I will meet, the impressions I will get from sitting in the wilds, all of these will be integral parts in telling the story that only I can tell, just as many of you have stories to tell that are unique to you. I was having a crisis of faith in myself, and this one paragraph served to restore my belief in myself just at the time I needed it most. Trust your intuition, this lesson reminded me. Trust, trust, trust.

So timing.

We may not always understand it, but it has shown itself, at least in my life, to be perfect in its delivery.
Once again.

I hope my sharing this story will help you believe that something you need, a piece of your missing puzzle, will come to you in perfect timing.

Most of all, I want to thank you all for joining me - on Facebook, Twitter, and here on my blog. Thank you especially for sticking with me and being so patient in waiting for this new book as it develops. I appreciate your patience and support more than words can say.

And I hope you'll trust in me that when it comes to this novel, all will be done in perfect timing.
That's my promise to you.

With love,
The mists cleared on our descent
Brandon waits for pilgrims of every religion and belief system 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Idea is to Write for 15 minutes and Not to Stop.

I've done it, now you do it. It is torture, it is fascinating, and there is something in it, deep down, like freedom, like joy. 

Here's mine: 

The idea is to write for 15 minutes and not to stop. No matter if I can’t think of what to say, to hear the thoughts and let them flow; I have silenced my flow, I am beginning to understand, and I edit it down before it can come out. Even now I am doing it; delete delete rewrite better. My hands, the tendons in my hands, begin to burn already, carpel tunnel at 32, and I think, I cannot think if I cannot write. This is how I do it, typing. Long hand is all wrong, too slow. I love that satisfying click click click. I remember being a little girl, in my mother’s study that overlooked the deck. I would sit in her chair and hit the keys on the type writer, clickety-click-click-click, I am a writer, a newspaper woman, a very important journalist. Mary Alice Monroe said that our children tell us, between the ages of 3 and 5, who they are going to be. It’s just that we only realize it in retrospect. I was telling myself that more than anything, I wanted to be a writer.

Now I sit, nearly 30 years later, at my keyboard going clickety-click-click, feeling the beast of the novel that is not getting written lurking in the closet. He will shred my heart. He has long claws that rip and tear and oddly enough, I see him often times, sitting for lunch with my inner critic. I’ll begin the work and you finish her off, she’ll say to him, their heads leaning close because she’s not afraid of his terrible gnashy monster teeth and rotten breath. She’s had tuna for lunch anyways, so who is she to judge?

I begin to think that maybe even though it’s crap, my crap isn’t as bad as other people’s crap: Ego. It makes a fleetingly brave appearance after monster, after inner critic. It shows its true colors quickly as nothing to be relied on by saying that perhaps it is wrong: Fear has arrived. Perhaps this is all a huge plastic waste pile floating in the ocean of Never. What I tried to do but couldn’t. That time I tried to write a novel but could never finish it. Just like my old man.

Why is non-fiction different? It is easy to say the things you think are true when you’re telling people about things you experienced yourself.

But novels are one step removed. And now you’re not being honest, are you, really? You weren’t there, fiction writer. You are only pretending. And what right have you to pretend? Stop the flow. Stop the flow. Go go go. I spend long moments envying imaginations. Other people’s. Wishing I knew where mine was but when I look for it, there is blankness. Can I be okay with blank? That is what I am trying to understand. Blank makes me feel stupid. The nothing. The empty.

The Runes say, Blank the beginning, blank the end. I miss them.

Keep the fingers moving, clackety-clack clackety clack. Who are these faces who have a story to tell from out of the mist? I see their outlines but not their details. They stand there, and I can feel their gazes on me, heavy with meaning.
Then help me, dammit, why don’t you?
You want your story told? Come on in here and do it for me.

This is atrocious.
All these efforts at channeling and finding nothing but blankness.

I want to write about the sunlight through the blinds that finds my puppy Lucy sprawled on the bed, her brown eyes rimmed with short blond eyelashes, she looks at me and I wish I could get lost in the now with her and just breathe and forget and not think about the nothing anymore. Fifteen minutes gone and the chatter continues.
You see? How large this problem is for me? Do you see the size of the monster I have hidden in my closet? He breaches the walls, his back strains against the roof, he rifts house and home with his monstrosity! I have it worse than anyone. We are all the same.
In the trenches.
Nothing is easy. Accept it. Invite it. Sit with it until it becomes something, for however long it takes.

I have always wanted to be a writer. I told myself this between the ages of 3 and 5 although at the time I did not know it.
Even in all the blankness, there is something, some glimmer of light.
It flashes like fish scales in the water.
There is nothing else for me to do but stay. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sacred Sights Guide Peter Knight

I hope everyone is having a beautiful 2013! I'm sitting in my sunroom as I type this with Lucy and Willoughby lounging nearby, sunshine, blue skies and all the windows open. "Winter" in South Carolina is my favorite time of year.

Many of you who read Faery Tale write sharing your wishes to take your own adventure. To that I say, please do it, do it, do it! No matter where you go, if you set out with clear intentions and an open heart, adventure and transformation are guaranteed to find you. Some of you have also written wondering if I'll be leading any more retreats - I loved planning the retreat we ran in 2011, but I'm taking some time to focus on my writing and as much as I would love any excuse to travel Europe with inspiring people, I've got to buckle down and get my new manuscript done!

Return to Faery Retreat, June 2011
To that end, I promised some of you that came to the Faery Lunch in Ithaca this Christmas that I would post information on Peter Knight. If you're drawn to any of the sites in England, Peter is available for tours. (You'll find his rates are quite reasonable.) Those of you who came on the magical "Return to Faery" retreat with myself and Raven can attest to the contribution Peter and his vast knowledge on things both ancient and mystical added to our trip. He took us on a tour of Glastonbury that included Glastonbury Tor, Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury Abbey and the Chalice Well, and we also traveled with him to Stone Henge and Avebury, stopping off to see the Uffington White Horse

(This video of Peter discussing scones and the mysteries of Silbury Hill brings me right back to that fabulous trip.) 

The Uffington White Horse
The Merlin Stone, Avebury

I hope if you plan a trip to England, you'll consider contacting Peter. He surely knows a heck of a lot more ancient sites than I could hope to learn in a lifetime - You'll be in the best of hands. 

To contact Peter, visit his website:
You can also join him on Facebook: 

(To read more about Silbury Hill, click here to check out this article from The Guardian

(To see more pictures from our Return to Faery Retreat, click here) I haven't yet had a chance to caption them all, but will be working on that! 
West Kennet Long Barrow
Peter Knight of Stone Seeker Tours