by Angeliska on December 20, 2012
The winter solstice is nearly upon us – this one so trepidatiously anticipated as a harbinger of either the end of the world, or the beginning of a new era of human conscious – depending on you talk to. For me, this is a moment to stop, to take a deep breath, to light a fire. I want to nestle in my little nest, to gather friends and beloved animals around me, to sip mulled wine and burn away everything I am ready to let go of. The solstice is a time of wonder, of ritual, of candles lit under shivering stars.
I found a wonderful book recently that has been very inspiring reading as I’ve been preparing my celebration. I’ve included some illustrations and excerpts from it here in this post:
The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas
by John Matthews (with contributions from Caitlin Matthews).
I love this excerpt from the introduction:
“The Solstice is a time of quietude, of firelight, and dreaming, when seeds germinate in the cold earth, and the cold notes of church bells mingle with the chimes of icicles. Rivers are stilled and the land lies waiting beneath a coverlet of snow. We watch the cold sunlight and the bright stars, maybe go for walks in the quiet land. . . . All around us the season seems to reach a standstill — a point of repose.”
From the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry – one of my favorite things in the whole world.
“At this point we shall discuss the order of the steps by which the soul descends from the sky to the infernal regions of this life. The Milky Way girdles the zodiac, its great circle meeting it obliquely so that it crosses it at the two tropical signs: Capricorn and Cancer. Natural philosophers name these ‘the portals of the sun’ because the solstices lie athwart the sun’s path on either side, checking farther progress and causing it to retrace its course across the belt beyond whose limit it never trespasses. Souls are believed to pass through these portals when going from the sky to the earth and returning from the earth to the sky. For this reason one is called the portal of men, the other the portal of gods: Cancer, the portal of men, because through it descent is made to the infernal regions [to life on earth]; Capricorn, the portal of gods, because through it souls return to their rightful abode of immortality, to be reckoned among the gods.”
– From A Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, written by the medieval scholiast Macrobius (5th cent AD) The Dream of Scipio was a cosmological section of Cicero’s work, On the Republic, which did not survive as a manuscript, but was found beneath heaps of tomes in the Vatican library in the 19th century. What was found, however, did not contain the Dream of Scipio, which is only preserved in the commentray by Macrobius. Alas.
“Shaman, will the sun be reborn? Will we have a good harvest? Will we catch enough fish, will there be enough meat to eat, will the reindeer drop enough offspring to keep us through another year?
What will the new year bring for us, for me? Tell us, shaman, make your journey and bring us the gifts of your seeing!
You are the bringer of gifts, the protector, the magician, the future is yours to see, the sack on your back carries the gifts of the future and the past — tell us, shaman, tell us.”
“The many animals that throng the Winter months are particularly present during the Twelve Days of Christmas, those days in which guising is performed, when we walk between the worlds, masking and veiling our features so that animal spirits can moves through us and among us, bringing their gifts and challenges. These customs embrace us all, for we are all still animals and are all part of the pattern of ancient ‘wildness’ that threads through the celebration of Midwinter.
This is itself a reflection of a once powerful but now neglected sense of oneness between human beings and the natural world that was our environment before we began to build cities and gather together in amorphous groups. That this ancient wildness is still there, only a little but below the veneer of our civilized lifestyles, is apparent by the number of traditions still in practice that involve dressing as animals and performing ancient rituals.”
– John Matthews
“On those days the heathen…put on counterfeit forms and monstrous faces. Some are clothed in the hides of cattle; others put on the heads of beasts, rejoicing and exulting that they have so transformed themselves into the shapes of animals that they no longer appear to be men… furthermore, it is those who have been born men who are clothed in women’s dresses…and effeminate their manly strength by taking on the forms of girls, blushing not to clothe their warlike arms in women’s garments; they have bearded faces, yet they wish to be women… ”
– Caesarius of Arles, 6th century A.D.
“If a cosmic tree points the way to heaven for us every Christmas, Santa Claus undertakes the magical flight of the shaman. He is sometimes said to be responsible for erecting the Christmas tree sky pole himself. Descending vertically down the chimney Santa returns by the same route back to the roof. Our chimneys, like the cosmic axis, carry him from one realm to the other…”
May your Winter Solstice be full of magic, hope, and wonder.
“Hope is at the very core of the Winter Solstice. There will be hunger, darkness, fear, loneliness, grief and suffering. People die, cities crumble, rivers freeze and green things wither away (except for evergreens, of course, which is why we treasure them) – and throughout it all we go on hoping that better days will come, even if we can’t imagine what those days might look like or where on earth they will come from. We go on hoping, tending the hidden suns deep inside of ourselves even as our bodies freeze, our stomachs grumble and our hearts break. We go on tending that tiny flame even after it seems reduced to nothing but cold grey ashes. We go on tending that tiny flame as if our very lives depend upon it – and you know what? They do. Our lives do depend on tending that little flame, that hidden sun. They really do, and in order to tend that flame we have no choice but to wait with it in the darkness from time to time.”
Before There Was Christmas – A Sermon by the Rev. Aaron McEmrys, delivered to the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, December 20, 2009
Related posts from winter solstices of yore:
by Angeliska on December 7, 2012
This year on November 2nd, which is Day of the Dead or All Souls’ Day, (also known as the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed), I was in New Orleans – a city that is on more intimate terms with death than many other cities, and a place where the dead are honored with elaborate marble necropolises, with both liturgical rites and pagan processions. The Day of the Dead parade is a tradition that I have has the great joy of participating in many times now, and has become such a major part of how I most want to honor those I’ve loved and lost every year. There’s something very powerful about this solemn, joyful, wild, rag-tag processions that wends its way through the dark streets, between houses and over train tracks, carrying ashes, lanterns, photos an memories. Every face painted with a skull, some glittered and grease painted, some intricate, some abstract. The sun set in a Maxfield Parrish blue fantasia, and we all gathered by the tracks: urchins and dogs and mamas and their little ones and elders and sisters and brothers and lovers. And the dead – invoked, unseen, everywhere.
Corinne knocks me out every time.
Rachel David makes me smile.
Mr. Michael James. Hot shaman.
I wrote the names of these dearly departed on my heart and burned it by the river:
I got to ride on a nice man’s pennyfarthing!
On the long walk back to the world, I came across this beautiful altar.
The sign reads: this is public altar – feel free to post photos and offerings
Folks from the neighborhood had come and added photos and memorials of their loved ones. It was strange to come across photos of people I recognized there, like My friend Felix’s dad, Hart McNee, who passed away in 2009. Strange and beautiful. I’m so grateful to be able to experience rituals like this. It is my dream in life to be able to create more opportunities for people to grieve and celebrate and honor their dead in beautiful ways like this. One day, I hope to help make a similar procession happen in Austin… Hopefully, one day very soon.
Full set of photos here:
Day of the Dead 2012
Further reading on Day of the Dead:
by Angeliska on November 30, 2012
I’ve been wanting to draw this all together for awhile, ever since I found a half-full bottle of Diptyque’s L’Autre on Ebay last year. It’s a scent I’d been hearing tale about for years – one that intrigued me since it is so often reviled as being too weird, or too stinky. Being a Capricornian sea-goat, I tend to savor a good ripe stink – if it’s the right kind… I find the funk of the Indian spice asafoetida to be strangely pleasing, and the animal musk of certain armpits have been known to drive me to fits of wild nuzzling, like a truffle-hunting boar. It’s the faun in me, the forest dweller that loves to roll like a wolf in rotting piles of leaves and mushrooms. Even the smell of roadkill on a breeze isn’t always initially repulsive to my nose. So, I instinctively knew that I might adore L’Autre, the Other – that naughty satyr trapped and gamboling in a glass bottle. There are so many perfumes I find truly abhorrent – but most of them are cloying, sugary synthetic concoctions meant to mimic the juice of carefully engineered robotic fruit, and usually worn by desperate women attempting to buy a renewed sense of juiciness at the mall. I’d literally rather slather myself in the ooze from a dead raccoon or be sprayed by a skunk before allowing myself to be spritzed with some eau de mango whale-butt. I’m serious.
L’Autre is a woody blend of spices including cumin, coriander, cardamom, carvi and patchouli, that for me, evokes a certain place in time: an autumn in London circa late 1960′s/early 70′s. There’s something about the spice over a coolness, a stoniness. It’s an old English rock-wall draped in dry moss, with an orange paisley scarf flung over it, forgotten by a hippie couple, who bought it in India, and used it many times to couple on, to serve lentil picnics over, to wrap around their attar drenched necks. It’s the scent of a irrevocably civilized person who travels, and seeks out the exotic, and forces themselves to be alright with not bathing while on their voyage. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I can’t help feeling that the wildness and naughtiness in it are made even more exciting when paired with a certain staidness. It’s a deceptively calm, pale face with a ribald glint in the eye. It makes me think of cold British weather made cozy indoors with spicy stews and tea and tapestries and incense and sex. All the very best things about autumn. It’s perfume for the moment when the sixties really started swinging, and the Beatles and Donovan all went to hang out with the Maharishi. It’s Norwegian Wood: all sitars and aching blue balls and wine spilled on the persian rug. At least, that’s my interpretation. I don’t feel right putting it on unless I’m wearing something rusty, sable or saffron. It makes me want to dress in a russet leather trenchcoat, or in old riding gear. It makes me want to tumble on a lambskin rug in front of a fire with someone wild until winter’s over.
My dwindling bottle perched on an assortment of my favorite fall patterns. Two frocks, and my beloved velvet jacket that was rescued by my sister from a Portland trash-pile. I hornswaggled it off her and wear it constantly.
“Capturing the memory of long walks through the spice markets of Damascus, L’Autre is a dry, sensual blend that recreates all the mesmerizing magic found in the rich landscape of the Orient. L’Autre, is the second fragrance creation from Diptyque.”
Diptyque – L’Autre
“Before I had ever smelled L’Autre by the niche French house Diptyque, I heard someone call it the dirtiest perfume they’d ever smelled. Most of the “stories” behind perfumes are pure, distilled lies (marketing being their dirtiest ingredient), but this one seems to check out: Diptyque claims that its creative director, Desmond Knox-Leet, was transfixed by the smell of a Damascus spice market, which he had his perfumer Serge Kalouguine recreate. The result is one of the world’s most literal-minded perfumes. L’Autre is piles of spices simmering in the hot African sun. It is desert dust, the dirt on the street and a hint of body odor from the salesman’s robes. If the spice is somewhat obvious, it is a picture worth 10,000 words. To wear it or not might require a considered decision, but there is a reason you see it as dirty; perfumers know well that one of the molecules in cumin is also found in sweat.”
– Dirty Tricks by CHANDLER BURR
The majority of the images I chose to illustrate this paean to one of my favorite perfumes come from my amazing friend Laura McLaws Helm’s marvelous blog Sighs and Whispers. Laura is a fashion historian who specializes in the studying the styles of the 1960′s and 70′s. She is truly an encyclopedia of knowledge on the subject, and her blog is a treasure trove of images she has lovingly scanned from the magazines and advertisements of the era. I have spent many a sleepless night poring through her pages, tantalized and thrilled by the amazing stuff she’s found in her studies. Beware: once you fall down that particular rabbit-hole, it’s easy to lose yourself in a vintage fantasia for hours and hours!
“For those who like their pleasures first-hand and real, L’Autre is much more the thing; perhaps the sort of thing, in fact, that Mr Ford would have created were he not scared of his own penis. Because L’Autre is actually sexy, in a real, earthy, unashamed, all-consuming way. It smells of two things: man-spice and man-sweat. It is devastatingly uncomplicated. Spray it on, and it’s cumin. (Sorry.) Heavy, heavy garam masala, cumin-centric, with hints of coriander, ginger and black pepper. And then, after about five to ten seconds, comes the first hammer-blow of pure armpit. WHOMP! Oh God. It’s wonderful. You wait and sniff again. WHOMP! Grrr. WHOMP! Again!
L’Autre is the smell of the wolfman, if the wolfman lives in Peshawar and rarely washes. It is the smell of an Afghan spice market after a long summer day, while rugged tribesmen stand guard, using their Kalashnikovs to pick their teeth. It is like dancing all night with an awesomely muscled and shirtless Bollywood superstar, and burying your nose in his furry chest hair. It is sex. Sex and curry. And sex.“
Tent Living: A Delight of Gypsies, 1970
Photographs by Henry Clarke for Vogue UK, March 1970.
Somehow, I’ve drawn all these lines between my brain and my nose and fashion and a character in a book, a series of books, by A.S. Byatt. I don’t know how it happened, but it’s how I connect things I love – the colors, the mood, the feeling. There’s always a literary allusion, an associated smell, a season, a tone. Also, the music. I have to syncretize everything, to draw threads. Only connect. There are certain colors, certain songs, certain scents that I only want to experience in the fall. This is a collection of those things. Even though technically fall should be over by now, in Texas it’s hardly begun. The leaves are finally beginning to turn, and flutter. I don’t even have the heater on. This is the way it goes, down here. Indian summer forever.
I have become obsessed with A.S. Byatt’s quartet of books following the life of Frederica Potter – so much so though that I’ve found myself coming back to them and rereading, getting sucked back into the story, even when I just mean to thumb through searching for a line to reference. I accidentally reread Babel Tower trying to write about L’Autre, which is why I’m only getting this up now that it’s basically December. Ah, books – they do that! Especially these. There’s something about the character of fierce, fox-faced Frederica, gathering conkers in the woods on a country estate, curled up over a book in a Yorkshire winter, battling it out in various courtrooms and classrooms… The four books span a life. I wonder if Byatt’s done, or if she’ll show us an older Frederica? I can’t help hoping that she will. I want to know what happens even later.
“There was a moment during this time, when his face was on hers, cheek on cheek, brow on brow, heavy skull on skull, through soft skin and softer flesh. He thought: skulls separate people. In this one sense, I could say, they would say, I lose myself in her. But in that bone box, she thinks and thinks, as I think in mine, things the other won’t hear, can’t hear, though we go on like this for sixty years. What does she think I am? He had no idea. He had no idea what she was.”
— The Virgin in the Garden, A.S. Byatt
“Hugh says, ‘You’ve done a lot of living, Frederica. Real things have happened to you.’
‘Having things happen to you and living’ says Frederica. She begins again. ‘They aren’t the same thing. I suppose they must be the same thing. I used to be so sure about living. I wanted.’
The sentence has no object and no end, apparently.”
— Babel Tower, A.S. Byatt
This isn’t my copy, because the cover (and several of the pages) were mauled by my dog awhile back. Again, I refuse to give it up, and still tote around my tattered tome. Like so:
Here’s a few good reviews of the quartet, if you’re curious – but honestly, go read them yourself! They are so beautifully realized. As a finished A Whistling Woman, (which I think is maybe my favorite of the four), I found myself constantly marveling over passages and feeling the intense urge to find and hug A.S. Byatt. She’s such a goddamn wonderful writer.
“At the end of the ride, when he comes to it, is a stile. Beyond the stile are rough fields and hedges. On the other side of the stile are a woman and child, standing quietly. The woman is wearing country clothes, jodhpurs, boots, a hacking jacket. She has a green headsquare knotted under her chin, in the style of Queen and her royal sister. She leans on the fence, without putting her weight on it, looking into the wood.”
— Babel Tower
I picture Frederica as looking like a cross between Grace Coddington and Tilda Swinton – gingery and sharp angles, with bright inquisitive eyes. Elegant, erudite and oddly elfin.
“There is a dress. It is dark charcoal grey with a high neck and long tight cuffs, woven with red silk braid and embroidery, very rich, very plain. It is a long tunic that goes over a short, slightly flaring skirt. It looks like, it is, Courrèges. Frederica, like most women with red hair, does not wear red, but there is one red, a clear dark vermilion, that brings out the fire in her hair and the gold in her dusting of freckles. This is that red. No one knows what to say.”
“Frederica comes back wearing the dress. In its honor she has put on black tights, and carefully dressed her hair in a chignon. She is beautiful. Frederica is never beautiful, though often alive with attractive energy, but just for the moment, in the Courreges dress, she is wholly beautiful. It is the word. The dress fits almost too perfectly: her small high breasts sit neat and elegant inside its beautiful seams; her thin wrists, her narrow waist, her long thin hips, are beautiful where the silk-lined cloth skims past them, making look like necessary forms in relation to each other. It is a strange style, formal, tailored, severe, ending so far above the knee that the brevity of the skirt should be childish, a gym-slip, a dolly-dress, but it is not.”
There’s a scene in Babel Tower where Frederica’s hair is somewhat brutally styled into a sleek Vidal Sassoon bob. I can’t help thinking that Byatt must’ve been modeling her haircut on Coddington’s. Frederica writes about herself in the third person:
“A woman is sitting in Vidal Sassoon’s salon, the Bond Street one. She is having her long hair, which she has always had, shorn into one of those smooth, swinging cuts, like blades in their precise edges and points. Two young men are working together on the nape of her neck. Her feet are surrounded by shanks and coils and wisps and tendrils of what until recently was her body. It sifts, it is soft, it pricks between her collar and her skin. One man leans over her and holds the two points of her new hair down, dragged down, to her jaw. He hurts her.”
— Babel Tower
” Frederica goes to Paddington. She stands under the Departures and Arrivals. Her mouth is dry, her heart bangs audibly, her blood fizzes. She is alone. Her brown shoulder-bag hangs below the hem of her bright green cotton shift, which hugs her buttocks. Her long, thin legs tremble visibly. Her eyes are made up like does’ eyes. She has had her hair cut, finally: it is a shining bronze cap, or helmet, with pointed tongues licking her cheekbones.”
— Babel Tower
One of my favorite things about the quartet is that they contain books within books, stories within stories. There are letters, poems, a fantastic children’s fantasy, an Sadeian allegory, references to politics, events of the time, all the cultural shifts, and especially – the fashion. I love the way Byatt describes what Frederica wears, and even her makeup. It’s important.
An aside: I restrained myself from buying this insanely expensive, insanely amazing magazine in New York, and I’m still regretting it. Oh, Tilda! Marry me.
“She wears a black linen shift, well above her knees, and a silk shawl, black, embroidered with creamy cabbagey roses and golden lilies, with a long, shimmering fringe. She has learned to line her eyes with a black, surprised stare, and to lengthen her lashes; nothing can make her angular quickness look doll-like, but this is as near as she will ever get. She has painted her wide mouth creamy brown, a pale colour, which does not wholly suit her.”
— Babel Tower
Beauty Babe: Amber and Bronze
Ingrid Boulting by Barry Lategan For Vogue UK, January 1973.
Beauty Babe: Dreamy Summer Solstice
Editorial by Clive Arrowsmith for Vogue UK, April 1971.
So, of course I had to make an accompanying soundtrack to all this:
It’s a mix of new and old psychedelia and music from exotic otherwheres. It’s for putting on the record player while you eat dinner in front of the fire, or drink tea and stare out the window on a bitter cold day, dreaming of far-flung cities, warmer places. It is music for a red-haired woman named Frederica, for a woman made of flame, of white wood. A woman who dreams of traveling the world, but hasn’t quite yet.
For more on my obsession with perfumes for autumn weather: AUTUMNAL PERFUMES
by Angeliska on November 20, 2012
Right. So, instead of getting married on 11.11.12 – I drove out to the hills, out to the place where the earth reaches up to touch the stars. The place where my bones come from, the place where my people are buried. This journey was big for me in so many ways. It was profoundly sad, as I had never intended to spend that day that way, alone on a hill – and it was also deeply healing, in ways I could never have predicted. I knew I had to go be in a place that welcomed me, that held me to it fiercely, my soul sewn to the dirt with copper threads. And I knew I had to do it by myself. This was my first solo roadtrip, my first solo highway drive, my first solo camping experience – and all on the heels of my first traffic ticket, and my first car accident. I was more than a little intimidated, but – I knew I had to make it happen, somehow, and I did, goddammit. I drove all the out there without incident, and as I neared my destination, I felt a kind of wild elation rising up in my chest. There’s something incredibly powerful about making yourself do the things that scare you the most, and this year has been a long run of me facing and walking through many of my worst terrors. Being alone, being left, abandoned by the person I loved most. Losing his entire family, who I had thought of as my in-laws, who I had embraced as my own and been embraced by. Being lost. Fear of having been a fool, a chump, of wasting so much time investing love and energy in a dream that disintegrated so rapidly. Feeling cast aside, thrown away, in so many ways. Facing my grandfather’s death, losing him. Having painful separations from dear, old friends. Coming home to a dark and silent house. Driving. Driving. Driving. Every day, I have been walking through these fires that every day threaten to excoriate me, filet my heart out of my ribs and burn it into dust. I kneel before these tigers that will not let me be. I open my hands to them, and let my fears fall away.
In the midst of all this change and loss and growth, I have found that I am actually not so very alone. So many sweet friends and family have reached out to me with messages and words of encouragement and love that have helped me press onward. This letter from Henry James to a bereaved friend has been kindly passed my way a few times now, and I’ve been reading it again and again:
“Don’t melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see. My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don’t think, don’t feel, any more than you can help, don’t conclude or decide—don’t do anything but wait.”
There’s a reason they call this place enchanted. It’s a sacred place, a place where the medicine men and women would go on vision quests, a place where you can hear the ancestors voices calling in the wind. Enchanted Rock was called “Spirit Song Rock” by native tribes, and was revered as a holy portal to other worlds. When you get up there, you can understand why. There’s something unearthly about the place, a humming in the stone, a deep vibration that resonates in your bloodstream. I like to come out here on New Year’s Day, to make that bracing climb in the bright air and breathe in the sense of possibility, of new beginnings. Lots of people come out and do the same, and there’s a feeling in the air – a giddiness, a sweetness. It’s very beautiful. They say foul fortune and death will befall anyone who climbs the rock with bad intent, that you must make the climb with an open heart. Seems to me that all the folks I’ve met up there on the spirit rock have very open hearts. It’s not a difficult trek, so all kinds of people make their way up – elders with walking sticks, little bitty children, young lovers, serious climbers, and groups of school-kids singing teenybopper pop songs in surprisingly gorgeous harmonies. Humans have been drawn to the magic of this place for a long time. It has a power, a pull.
“Enchanted Rock is an enormous pink granite pluton rock formation located in the Llano Uplift. The weathered dome, standing above the surrounding plain is known to geologists as a monadnock. The rock is actually the visible above-ground part of a segmented ridge, the surface expression of a large igneous batholith.
Archaeological evidence indicates human visitation at the rock going back at least 11,000 years.
Folklore of local Tonkawa, Apache and Comanche tribes ascribes magical and spiritual powers to the rock (hence the name ‘Enchanted Rock’). While attempting to hide from Anglo settlers in the area, the natives would hide on the top two tiers of the rock, where they were invisible from the ground below. The first European to visit the area was probably Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1536. The Tonkawa, who inhabited the area in the 16th century, believed that ghost fires flickered at the top of the dome. In particular they heard unexplained creaking and groaning, which geologists attribute to the rock’s night-time contraction after being heated by the sun during the day. The name “Enchanted Rock” derives from Spanish and Anglo-Texan interpretations of such legends and related folklore; the name “Crying Rock” has also been given to the formation.”
– from Wikipedia
“According to the Apache, the Giver of Life sent the Gan, or mountain spirits, to teach the people a better way to live, govern, hunt, and cure illness. Accordingly to the myth, these benevolent but powerful mountain spirits live forever in the mountain’s caves and can be appealed to for guidance and protection.
There is no question that Enchanted Rock was the site for both the Gan dance of the Apache and the vision quest of the Comanche and other Plains Indians. Some of the earliest European visitors mention seeing stone sepulchres on the summit. As recently as thirty years ago flint shards were found on a large flat area on the northwest summit.
In 1892, James R. Mooney wrote in The Ghost Dance Religion, about Wovoka, a famous Paiute prophet and medicine man, whose influence was felt throughout the Plains. Although the excerpt is not specifically about Enchanted Rock or its native inhabitants, on a deeper level it speaks directly to the spirit of the place, Plains Indian spiritual leaders, and the mythological foundation of their religion.
‘Wovoka was by nature of a solitary and contemplative disposition, one of those born to see visions and hear still voices…His native valley, from which he has never wandered was roofed over by a cloudless sky in whose blue infinitude the mind instinctively seeks to penetrate to far off worlds beyond. Away to the south the view is closed in by the sacred mountain of the Paiute, where their Father gave them the first fire and taught them their few simple arts before leaving for his home in the upper regions of the Sun-land… It seems set apart from the great world to be the home of a dreamer.’”
– from Enchanted Rock Texas
I’ve heard people say before that long drives give one time to think, to clear their brains out. My car had its shitty broken tape player ripped out years ago, so I have no distraction from the road. I’ve been singing more. Old songs, sad songs. I sing them loud, and sometimes off key, but my dogs don’t mind. They like it when I sing. Spirit songs, mournful ululations and rallying war-cries.
I want to always come back to this place.
I read this today, and am trying to embrace it:
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.
- Pema Chodron
I feel like that baby bird, tossed out of the nest. I’m being challenged, constantly to endure, to survive. More than that, though – I am finding a way to savor the sharp air in my lungs, the wind on my face, all these new experiences. The further you get from your comfort zone, the closer you get to the real magic of life. It’s turning out to really be true.
I belong to this earth, to this land. It’s strange to feel such a deep sense of belonging, of comfort in a place. I never imagined it would be here. I’ve traveled all over the world, and seen some of the most stunning landscapes, but few speak to me the way this land does. It is so ancient, so weathered, so magical. I always feel like a child here, humbled by the wonder of it.
My trusty travel companion and I right before we lost the trail. I guess that’s what happens when you’re too busy taking pictures for you and your dog’s black metal album liner notes, right? Honestly though, I might likely be dead or worse if it weren’t for my bandmate and all around best friend, Prinzesse Grrizelda. She’s such an amazing creature.
Note to self for future adventures: when one has lost the trail, it is unwise to think that climbing up and over a mountain in the dark is a viable solution, or any kind of a clever shortcut. Because it totally isn’t. There’s this other rock next to Enchanted Rock called “Little Rock”. This is a misnomer. It is not really little at all, and also, I’m not sure there are any real trails that go down it. Maybe there are, and I just never found them, but man – I was up there trying to get down for a long time. I stubbornly kept trying to scale down sheer rock faces, dodging vicious patches of prickly pear, with only a tiny handheld flashlight. Thank god I had that, at least – I very nearly left the house without it. Lord, would I have been screwed. It was exhausting, and terrifying, and I would have stupidly kept at it, and probably fallen to my death or seriously injured myself if my wonderful canine companion hadn’t been so much wiser than me. She followed me down the rock up to a point, but when the cliff drops started getting really gnarly, she dug her heels in and wouldn’t jump down, no matter how hard I pleaded and tugged on her collar. I tried and tried to get her to come with me, but she wouldn’t budge. Because she’s way smarter than me! I finally had to give up my foolhardy descent and figure out a different plan. The sun had dropped over the horizon rapidly, and I remembered a fellow hiker earlier making his way down the big rock asking me incredulously if I planned to be up there after dark. “Maybe!” I replied, feeling way too smug and cocky about my trailblazing skills. In reality, I usually have a pretty great sense of direction, and often enjoy the challenge of getting a bit turned around so that I can orient myself again. But that’s on solid ground, with lights and roads. There was a moment, sitting up on top of this huge rock with my little light and map that I realized I might have to either holler for help, or spend the night up on the hill. They say that anyone who spends the night on the hill becomes invisible. I think that means they get eaten by coyotes. My pride wouldn’t allow me to holler, though I certainly thought about it. Also, my little tent and warm bedroll were waiting for me back at camp, luring me back… When I made it back up and over the other side and found the little sandy wash I’d been following that was totally not a trail at all, I was ecstatic. I’d never been so thrilled to be back down on terra firma. I had to retrace my steps in the dark, with branches and brambles and cactus clawing at my hair and clothes, but I just put my head down and let Grrizzle lead the way. After a bit, we lost the sandy wash path again, and she started to drag me off in a different direction, which I resisted vocally until – lo and behold, the goddamn trail! I nearly lay down and kissed it. How wonderful are wise dogs, and trails, and campfires and unbroken limbs? Oh, so very. Another two mile trek, on which we actually lost the trail twice more, and eventually we made it back to camp, where I ate apple pie for dinner and felt very grateful to be safe and alive. A word to the wise: don’t be a cocky butt-head like me when it comes to your safety out in wild places – the truth I realized when stuck up there on that mighty batholith was that no one was coming to save me. I was well and truly on my own, and my survival was completely up to me. One mis-step, one slipped handhold, and I could have ended up crumpled in a crevice, a jumble of gnawed bones. Worst of all, everyone would have imagined it was intentional, I’m sure. How tragic! The heartbroken bride leaped to her death on her wedding day, doomed to join the ghosts of other wronged women who haunt the rock. Apparently, there are many. I wasn’t willing to join them, even by accident. My life, though it is often difficult and heart-wrenching, is incredibly precious to me. I intend to die only when I am an old, old woman. Alone on the hill, I looked up at the Milky Way and forced myself to breathe deeply, to trust in myself to get myself safely back to camp. The stars that night were brilliant, so bright they made me want to squint. I thought about how incredibly far away they are, how tiny I am in comparison. A speck of dust in the eye of god. Less than that. Thinking of that oughtn’t really be comforting to me, but it is. I lay awake later, huddled in my sleeping bag, and let myself be lulled to sleep by the mating calls of two great horned owls, and a pack of coyotes yipping madly. Feral cats yowled and hissed among the rocks, and at one point, a canine of some kind came up to the tent and growled for a long time, but by that point I was too tired to care.
I have a habit of refusing to give up the ghost. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when a hurricane eats all your shoes and you only wear one pair of boots for a year or so. These trusty vintage Luccheses were gifted to me after Katrina, in mint condition, but I done wore ‘em out. Wear and tear, rips and holes. We got plenty of character now, my boots and I.
I come from a long line of cowgirls. This is my great-aunt Ruth. She and my grandmother used to ride horses to teach in small rural Texas schoolhouses. I have a lock of her hair in a bottle my aunt Ruth (her namesake) gave me on this trip.
The last night of my journey, I slept on a cot in the room where my mother died, in the house where my great-grandmother and my grandparents lived. Family place, ancestral home. The tap-roots burrow deep to find the water under the rocky soil here. Generations of my family have been dwelling on this land for centuries. I hear them, I honor them, I return to them.
I made this mix to listen to out there, but the wondrous still quietness and the animal chorus proved too captivating. I left it until I came back to civilization. COLD & STARRY EYED – Music for cosmic dreamers wandering around lost on high hills in the cold dark night. Shivering and dazzled, eyes raised to the sky.
Also, I was singing this to the buzzards up on the rock:
The Fool On The Hill was my favorite song when I was little – I used to play it over and over and spin around and dance in the living room. I love that it’s so happy and sad all at once. I don’t mind being a fool on a hill, sometimes.
But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning ’round.
by Angeliska on November 11, 2012
One year ago, today, we went to Marfa instead of getting married. My love and I. We went out there, to the big sky and dry desert to try to heal, to connect, to repair our bond. We had an amazing time, a beautiful journey. I thought that something about being under those bright stars, huddling together out in the cold wind, seeing so much beauty, exploring it all – I believed it was a magical spell that would bind us closer. I had so much hope for us, then. Despite everything that was going so wrong, I honestly never, not even for an instant, imagined that a year from now we’d be split apart. We had been together for seven years. Seven years that went be so swiftly, so (for the most part) very sweetly. All over now in a flash – poof! It still seems like a bad dream, an alternate reality from the twilight zone – a possibility that I’d never even really considered: that we would not survive this intact, that we would not be spending the rest of our lives together, happily ever after. Contemplating this current bizarro-world reality is like looking at my life through a broken funhouse mirror – skewed and strange and seemingly impossible. I’ve been waiting for the day when I can fully accept it, fully understand that the person I pledged my heart, my life and my future to has walked away from me, from all that I held in my open arms. That he chose something else.
I made a wish, a true wish, with my whole heart.
It was not granted.
We, who were supposed to be joined so completely on this day, are sundered, separate, alone. How could this be? My mind still doesn’t have the ability to comprehend it. What is this – this loss? Empty spaces echoing out where something used to be: a warm hand, the most familiar face, a body stretched out warm beside me all night long. What is this emptiness? I walk around all day, going through the motions, choking on that void, that hollowness that builds up in my chest until I feel as though I might crumple in on myself, fall apart. I don’t have answers. I don’t have much – a sinewy shred of survival instinct that keeps my head up, keeps me walking. I have love, still – for myself, for my good friends and family, for my animals, my plants. Oh, and I have memories. Memories that seem fresh as yesterday, memories that stop me in my tracks and make me want to fall to my knees: the way he used to look at me – so in love. I miss that. I miss it all, so much. I have these little snippets, a handful of cast-off snapshots from a vacation that was meant to be a happy recollection one day – we’d tell stories when we were old about how we went there and were saved, how we remembered how much we loved each other, how we found in each other the best company, the eternal companion.
But that’s not what happened, in the end.
Like Sugar says, “Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” I visit this room every day, several times a day. I repeat those words to myself like a mantra when my brain boggles, when my mind feels like it will break, trying to understand what the hell happened to my life, to our love. I go to that empty room and I sit with it, this thing that has happened. Sugar says, “Acceptance asks only that you embrace what’s true.” Not that you like it, or want it, or ever wished for it – but that you sit with it, stare at it directly, acknowledge that it exists. This has been very difficult for me. I read the words I wrote one year ago, today. I look at the pictures of us, and I just can’t fit it all together. It’s like a puzzle with too many pieces gone missing. It doesn’t make a picture anymore. I meant every word I wrote, I meant them with everything in me, everything that is me. How could that wish not be granted? Every time my mind goes, “What!? How…? Why?” I have to lead it by the hand back to that small, quiet room. My mind and I, we have to sit in time-out a lot, sitting with this ugly thing, this huge sense of loss. Somedays, I feel like an Alzheimer’s patient who has to be reminded every day that their spouse is gone, is not there with them anymore. My hands reach for him in our bed in the mornings before I’m completely awake. I still save articles that I think he would enjoy reading. I have to stop myself from buying him presents when I see something I know he would like. We’re not there yet – we’re really not anywhere. I have no idea how to enter that particular transition. It’s not something I ever wanted, or imagined I would have to do – to disconnect myself from someone who had become part of my heart. It seems so unnatural – an alien concept, a shard embedded deep in my palm. It’s one I cannot seem to unclutch. I am trying, though – to let it go. It is so, so hard. I don’t know how to do this.
Maybe it’s not necessary to know right now. I have to trust that the knowing, the understanding might come later. Maybe it’s only necessary, for the moment, to endure it. A very dear, very wise friend of mine told me something else I try to remember on a daily basis, from a text she sent me in the middle of the night, in one of my more desperately unhappy moments – she wrote:
“Keep your head down. This is not the time for analysis or big picture thinking. This is the part where you eat good food, exercise, read, watch movies, hug your pets, buy a new dress, cut your hair, put hours and days behind you and before you know it, you get stronger and far enough from ground zero to see the big picture. But for now, you’re in the thick of it, so keep your head down. Time is your best friend – but most definitely not your only one.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lain awake in the dark, scrolling back through my texts to find that one and reread it, remember it. It’s among some of the best advice I’ve been given, and I’ve been trying to follow it to the letter.
In the meantime, I mend holes in my clothes, I glue together broken teacups, I fix wonky table legs – as if these small repairs could somehow symbolically add it, to help me heal the broken parts of me. I walk around most days feeling like one of those gory cartoons where the cat has a giant shotgun-blasted hole through their torso that everyone can see through. When people ask me how I am, I get confused, because I forget that they can’t see it. I’ve come to really hate answering that question, even though I know it’s always well-meant. I want to answer honestly, and then I don’t want to. Don’t want to lay my tragedy on anyone. I usually go for something noncommittal like, “I’m happy to be here!” or, “I’m happy to see you!” Those things are true, and speak to what’s happening in that exact moment. Right? Ugh.
Recently, I discovered that though some reprehensible technological loop-hole, I’d (hopefully only temporarily?) lost years and years worth of photographs from my archives. So, so many years worth of memories. Gone, just like that. I’m praying for a solution/miracle that might allow me to recover them soon, but right now, they are out there floating in nothingness. All the photos I took on our trip to Marfa, our pre-emptive honeymoon for a wedding that never happened – all vanished. Like it never happened. Another hole, a lacuna – a space where we were, and now, are not. All I have to show we were ever there are these pithy instagrams, cheery snapshots that don’t really tell a story. We went here, we saw this, it was pretty, it was funny, we laughed. We held hands. We wandered down empty streets in ghost towns at sunset, drinking scotch out of fine cut-glass tumblers, like real outlaws. We drove on rough dirt roads in the black of night into the mountains in search of hot springs. We nearly set fire to our hotel room. We held each other. We whispered secrets. We missed our train because we were hunting for rocks. We enjoyed each other completely. Each day and night we spent in West Texas was truly a magical adventure, and I will always treasure the time we spent there. Maybe next year, I’ll be able to tell these stories. Right now, they’re lost to me, in so many ways.
Here are some of the things we saw:
I’ll spend this year’s 11.11 high up on a hill, alone. Instead. Instead of walking down an aisle in a white dress with tears of joy streaming down my face as I prepare to marry the man I love. This year, too, there is no magical cave filled with all the people we love and cherish most gathered around us. There is no majestic valley where we will dance and celebrate into the night. Those things live in a box, a hope chest filled with cobwebs and dust collecting on a veil and wax orange blossoms slowly disintegrating. Instead, there is this howling sound. Instead, here is me and my heart. Still here, still beating, but not joined. Instead, I came out to the place where I come from, the land that has always welcomed me as its child, despite being harsh and forbidding for most but the hardiest of creatures. My plan is to camp by myself out at Enchanted Rock – to do healing rituals for myself, to listen to the wind blow, to embrace this newfound solitude I never asked for or desired. Despite my resistance, I have found that there are aspects of it that I have come to treasure. This past year has been repeatedly forcing me to face all my worst fears head-on, and one by one, I have been meeting them on the road. They leer and jabber and spit at me and I walk through them, dissolve them, pierce and pin them with sharp swords. I sit with them, too.
Offer tea. Breathe deep. Let them go.