Archive for the ‘Fairy Tales’ Category

They are already living their lives.

They are already living their lives.

As a child, I never had an imaginary friend. I longed for one, was envious of the leagues, and mysteries into which I was not an initiate. I did not have that someone to encourage shenanigans, and in turn, to blame mistakes, missteps, and misguidance upon. There were times I might have liked an ally, someone invested only in me, as their creator, protector, inspiration, confidante and of course, as my scapegoat. I tried to conjure one, but I think intention is sort of counter-productive to the process – the more I tried to create her in my mind, the further away she’d slip. Maybe it was because I had so many books to read – I found friends between the pages, worlds to fall into, societies to which I most certainly belonged.

elk sketch

The elk belongs to autumn.

Or maybe it was because I had my stuffed animals. It is not unusual, I should think, to believe fully in our stuffed animals’ world as children. Anthropomorphized, each of them had a personality: Phoebe, Jenny, Puppy, Unicorn, Tiger. I absolutely believed they breathed, spoke, dreamed and interacted with each other, though rarely did they deign to include me. They had parties on my bed at night, went into the kitchen for snacks when nobody was looking, played in the backyard, argued, fell in love, fought, frolicked and bantered. I was witness to – and sometimes a part of – a world that was huge and wonderful and private and very secret – a world that was only theirs and mine, did not belong even to a book.

wolf and bear sketch

I don’t know when exactly this started, but I do know when it ended. I may have been a bit old to believe in such things, but there was nothing to dictate the ebb and flow of endings until we moved – I was twelve and suddenly in a new place across the country. Though their stuffed bodies moved with me, their world had vanished, and they lay limp in my arms. I suddenly had no friends, real or otherwise, within a thousand mile radius. Those cypress trees, those alligators, those huge herons with wings dripping with Spanish moss terrified me. The frenzied afternoon thunderstorms that hissed while drying were unfamiliar – a good thunderstorm should unfold itself and leave the air just a little bit cooler than when it began, a hush in its wake. 

Rabbit Sketch

We moved again, to the other side of the country where I made some of the best friends I have in this world. And of course, I always had my sister, mother, father, a dog and my dear, sweet old cat, and more dogs to come. I didn’t have to conjure worlds or animals or friends, but it seems I couldn’t stop.

Wolf Sketch

The wolf belongs to winter.

Even now, when I look at toy animals I think, “would you like to come home with me? would you like to meet your new friends?” and “who are you? what are you really like?” 


rabbit and chipmunk sketch

There are some people that can write and draw simply by remembering observations they have made and combining them with imagination. On an entirely blank page, with only a pen or a keyboard, they create a universe, visual or literary.  I’m not that talented. I like to have something to work from – I’ll listen to Bob Dylan before I sit down to write, or I’ll leaf through “Invisible Cities,” by Italo Calvino. When I draw, I pull up images on the internet (“chipmunk,” “chipmunk running” “chipmunk hiding.”) Yet I have seen hundreds of chipmunks in my life. If I were to go to the window of the cabin (or look under the couch? see here…) I could probably see five in one glance. I ought to know how to draw one… but looking at a still picture is helpful. I can always change him into the chipmunk that I want to draw.

bear sketch

I was thinking about this, and about the wooden hand model I have, and the little wooden jointed person that can become whoever I want when I draw, and so got online to find some animal models. (Some things are easier to draw than others. I spend hours looking at my dog. Petting him. Feeling how his bones work together, the little ligaments and tendons and muscles, how his expressions change with such small movements. I can draw him – looking at him or not looking at him. I know a little bit more about drawing other animals because of him.) I chose some very inexpensive animals online – they arrived and were so static, unfeeling, cold – so plastic – but when I look at them more closely to draw them, they seem to change, have personalities, things they want me to pull out of them, put onto the page. I begin to imagine their lives. I begin to think of their personalities. What their life was like when they all lived together in a tiny box, and what must have transpired there. And then I am eight years old again bearing witness to a world in which I am a part, in which I am more than just just an observer, a place that manifests with intentions rather than slips away.  

fox sketch


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Chronological Sequence: Northern Hemisphere.

May 9

friday. seventy-nine degrees fahrenheit.

May 10

saturday. fifty-eight degrees fahrenheit.

May 11 no. 1

sunday. forty-five degrees fahrenheit.

May 11

sunday. thirty-two degrees fahrenheit.

May 11 no. 3

sunday. thirty degrees fahrenheit.

May 12

monday. twenty-five degrees fahrenheit.

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Hi there! Just a quick post today. I want you to meet Coco and Theo, Coco and Theo, I’d like you to meet your readers.  These are the twins that will be the hero and heroine of my next book, though we’ll see how heroic they manage to be with a baguette and a bag of carrots.   Let me know what you think of them.  Did you notice their little friend by the gate? Guess what his name is…


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Hide and Seek

It’s been four months since I got married, and they have been the best four months I can remember, in so very many ways. But it makes me bit wistful to think of the life I lived in the the mountains when here I am, quite warm at my own desk, with a delivery menu in the kitchen, netflix that streams, mail that comes to my door, my car in a heated garage, a home without mice, (…or chipmunks or bats!) trash pick-up, sidewalks with street lamps, museums, concerts, baseball and then art stores and salons and paved roads, glowing windows to look into as couples prepare dinner, fashionable girls in stylish winter coats, and handsome, clean-scrubbed boys in their cold weather blazers, with ruddy, snow-brave cheeks, all within walking distance… But when I start to think about how civilized it all is, and, oh, where are my beasties and bears and hawks! there is still something quite wild to be seen on these streets.

The dogs. (and oh yes, I do mean even the sweetest.)

My pup was just groomed at a doggie style place with “urban” in the name. He is looking quite handsome, and has the strut to prove it. When he lived in California, grooming was a regular habit, thanks to grandma, but when he lived in the mountains… well, he sported a more Bohemian look. I did, too, perhaps – the water came from the well, on the property, and though it did go through pipes, and was (sometimes) heated, it often went out.  Two (thankfully) separate weeks are particularly memorable… but enough of that. Lets just say that snow baths are not just an option for dogs.  And no matter how well behaved, and no matter how much maltese he may have in him, and no matter how much he sleeps on your lap (or bed), your dog is wild.

Many of the dogs I see here are rescued dogs, most of them are mixes, many are mutts – and then there are the Bernese, the St. Bernards, the Poodles and the Yorkies. And I think most of them, if they had lived in the mountains, would have been much like Osha, a husky who played hide and seek with my pup, dashing behind snowbanks and popping up again when my pup went searching in the snow, and then running off again to the next place to hide, so quick that we often lost track of him on our walks for minutes at a time. And my closest neighbors on the mountain have a bouvier, and he told me about reading one day, looking out the window to see a bear (yes, a bear) amble by. He went back to his book but looked up again, to see his dog racing after the bear into the woods. Then he spotted the bear again, going the other way, and fast, with the Bouvier on his heels. I think my pup might have been a bit on the small side for that particular game (stop, snack, resume?) but he held his own on hikes and huskies’ games and wild horse encounters in the woods.


Bears and Bouviers

The city dogs get lots of play time, and I think are no less happy – one of the wonderful things about dogs is how much they need their friend-beasts (thanks to matthew inman for that phrase!) But, like us, dogs are wild creatures that have learned to love the sidewalks and parks and pathways and grassy spots…. just like we love the brick-wall bars, the wood fenced gardens, and the copper rooftops of the city. Are we less wild for living here?

Differently wild, perhaps. I still have dreams where I am a woodland creature, burrowing into soft grassy spots, drinking from streams, eating flowers and berries, following the tracks of another animal. A human woodland creature? Perhaps. A wild one? Yes. Listening for wolves, thrilling and terrifying, just like my own pup listens, small as he is, polite and domesticated and cultivated as we are. Sophisticated, wild, and in love with unpredictable animals and trees and mountains, wind and snow and sun. Isn’t it wildness that teaches us how to remember to play? Isn’t is wildness that drives us out into the mountains? And isn’t it wildness that lets us fall in love – today of all days – with a mountain boy, a pup, or an unexpected snowfall.


Street lamps in the City

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Fleet Foxes

A magical video (But you might cry)

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Some days, it is hard to believe that fall is nearly over. The sun, even when it is 20 degrees out, is warm, and the leaves that are left are warm – when the fallen Aspen leaves catch the light of morning frost, it is hard to resist scooping them up in my arms like treasure. But with each snow, more and more stays on the ground, the icicles are growing, and the mountains are going from green and yellow and orange stripes of Aspen and pine to long, white expanses of snow.  Looking out over the mesa, hazy with woodsmoke and horse’s breath, autumn is giving itself over to the blues and purples of winter, and the snowfalls leave my home drifting in clouds that turn everything white and mysterious. I’m still eating the pumpkins from Halloween (I promised the farmer I would) and there are turnips too… Fires at night, and the bears are still looking for dinner until hibernation. Last night, baby bear’s prints…

Not that you believe fuzzy night photos, but the paws of a baby bear...

and Mama Bear’s tracks on the porch this morning, alongside her baby’s fresh prints.

Mama and Baby Bear prints

And the last hike I went on, I looked down into the woods when the rustling came closer, and yes… there was a bear hiking alongside me. I wanted to stay and watch… she was illuminated by the coming sunset behind her, and she didn’t seem to mind a person 10 ft. away, and luckily the pup didn’t seem bothered either… but I went on down the mountain, keeping her carefully in sight, and that night there was snow. The woods are a thousand doors, and I peeked into the right one.

But all of this coming winter, looking up and out at snow and sky, has made the cold nights – longer and longer and filled with glowing light – seem so rich and full of possibilities. I look more closely at the indoors, open more books, I sew more buttons, I am drawn to every doorway, pathways unspotted, and A Victorian locket from my mom…


A tiny door that begs to be opened… and wanting pictures to keep close to my heart.

I looked for photos… but none were small enough, so I decided to draw two of my dearest into the doorway.

And I used my smallest pencil, and then my smallest pen….

And then my smallest brush…

And I made myself feel as small as the drawings…

Which made every doorway possible, even if I’m older than Alice…

There are wonderlands everywhere in winter. It is snowing again now…

for scale…

In a few hours, or even a few minutes, going outside of my door will be completely different from this morning’s doorway onto what still looked like fall. Late afternoon snow calls for fire, and firelight is different too, a doorway of its own, to the hearth. The oven, homemade pizza, another small door, the closet door to pull out the knit caps…

Next to my Heart

And next to my heart, two loves to keep me warm.

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Angus Who?

When I was small, very small, I used to listen to a version of the Odyssey on tape – long before I studied it in the original Greek my freshman year of college and it became something else.  I suppose this was appropriate, because – and I think this is true for most of us that have moved a lot in their lives – but much of my life has been sort of an odyssey (rather, whose isn’t, really?)  Not exactly fully of the dramatic travails of Odysseus’ journey across the Mediterranean to get home – at least, I didn’t precisely lose men to the shipwrecks of lightning and thunderbolts (though, in some moments it may have felt that way.)

But home… they say the mountain I live on either accepts you, or doesn’t. Sort of like Odysseus’ dog Argos. He knew Odysseus, even when nobody else remembered.  My mountain, well, it accepted me. At least my bear accepted me the night of my arrival. I knew, when I arrived, after so many states, and so many countries, that I was home – when I saw my mountain, when the hush of dawn made the sound of a bear, when I slept calmly as he walked between tall pines back up the mountain. A rainbow at dusk, a monsoon to cool a hot night, a sunset that remembered me like a nursemaid a hundred years old. And when I arrived home after a fourteen hour drive from California three nights ago, a bright shooting star as I turned up the dirt road leading up this mountain road.

But back to the tapes I listened to.  They were terrifying. No matter how many times I listened to them, I always feared for Odysseus’ safety.  The songs of the sirens, the waterspouts and whirlpools of  Charybdis and Scylla, the sorceress Circe and the men she turned into pigs, the whims of  the Gods and their fickle wrath.  But one story always frightened me more than the rest: the island of Helios, which came back to me in a rush the night cows on the ranch behind me began to howl.

Cows howling? Oh yes. Lets back up again, briefly.  A mountain boy was visiting me a few months ago, and we took a walk with the pup, down across the little bridge, over the acequia, through some spring wildflowers and past the gigantic fallen pine, down to the little barbed wire fence where two very large and very black cows were idling beneath the pines.

“What beautiful Angus,” he said, the pup quivering, barking bravely, but still, cowering – and the huge huge, well, “Angus” looked at us – the male was embarrassingly, um – bull. Or steer  I’m not really sure of the anatomical language, but it was enough to make one blush.

This mountain boy happens to know a lot about meat.  He is in “the industry” – organic, of course. But I’m vegetarian, and this comment, well, it elicited a reaction.

“Really? Angus? Do you have to make it sound like a menu?!”

“A menu? Angus just means they’re black.” They certainly were black, this boy and girl cow, towering over us, and towering over the pup, who had a lot to say about the issue. He’s black too. The cows glistened. I felt chastised, though the comment was said gently, fairly. They weren’t on any menu (yet). They just glowed in the sunset, healthy to be sure, and sure of themselves too. The bull bellowed at us benignly. Walked towards his lady. My little Angus pup, on nobody’s menu except maybe the hungry cow’s, trembled some more, and I felt like, perhaps, we ought to walk away too, towards some Angus crows perching in the trees, and a glass of pinot angus wine and maybe some angus chocolate cake for dessert?  Well, at least I was trying to make amends.

Gentleman Pup

But those cows, and maybe I’ve been spending too much time alone lately, but something strange is going on.  There aren’t just the two we saw. There are many from the sound of it – and they’ve been screaming lately.  I don’t know how many that farm has, and I don’t know what has been going on, I don’t really want to think about it, but I can’t help it.  They’ve been making terrible sounds. I’ve wondered – is it mating season? It seems unlikely. One bull, and many terrified (or weirdly pleasured females?) Has food suddenly become scarce? Unlikely.  There is so much land. I haven’t seen the ranch itself, but it extends (among the trees – I don’t have a view of it really, it is wooded, and goes down the mountain.) A slaughter would never last so long. Likewise with labor – this has been going on for a week – usually around sunset, but sometimes it lasts all day.

You can see I’ve really tried to rationalize – but there is only one reasonable explanation. What happened, in the Odyssey, and possibly on the ranch, to the best of my recollection, is this. Odysseus and his men got stranded on the island with no wind in their sails and they were, understandably, very hungry.  They didn’t really want to go foraging, because the last time this happened they stumbled upon a field of Lotus flowers…. as pleasurable as they are to eat, we all know what your mother says when you get just a little too blissed out on illicit flora and lose all ambition… So, though the Gods had warned them not to touch the beautiful, immortal, golden cows, as soon as Odysseus turned his back, his famished men killed the irresistable golden cattle.  But slaughtering the cows wasn’t the bad part.  Even the deadly vengeance of the Gods wasn’t the bad part (they were, of course, struck dead by lightning when they set sail again, understandable, as they’d been warned by the Gods and Odysseus, etc. on penalty of death not to touch the cows. At this point in the story, I’d been inured to death, anyway).

No, the truly horrible part was that the cows, when they were roasting on the spit, began to come back to life.  But no normal life: they made terrible sounds (I am certain the tape I had had crazy sound effects, perhaps, recorded on a ranch like the one behind my house.) All sorts of spits and crackles, like a normal campfire, but with moos and human sounding groans, the hides beginning to refill with animal like forms and the beasts starting to walk again, slowly, legs doing the opposite of buckling, necks the opposite of collapsing, haunting the men with the reverse sounds of slaughter. The golden cattle belonged to the God Helios, and his revenge was terror, not really the imminent death of the men. Men may die any number of ways, but their fear – the cows speaking as they walk off of a roasting spit – that is the punishment of a true and vengeful God.

But I have an alternate explanation for the bellows and trumpets of the mysterious ranch.  It also makes sense, a lot of sense considering the sounds, actually, for it to have been converted to an elephant sanctuary.  Elephants are pretty noisy, especially when they take their baths in an acequia. I really adore elephants, even if they aren’t Angus – and I have a feeling that the pup might like them better than the bull, and may prefer a baby elephant to the bull’s lady friend, too.  If an elephant happens to wander this way, I think I might just borrow it for the afternoon, and ride it into town. I might even wear my boots.

An Elephant in Town

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