Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

mandala2

 

Inspired by Dana’s beautiful nature mandalas, I set out to make my own. I have little experience in mandalas except reading about the sand mandalas the Tibetan monks make. They create complex circular designs out of sand and then ritualistically destroyed their creation, ceremonies and prayers lifted up during the end.

I set out in the morning with a bag and a husband and we skirted along the hems of native plants growing in profusion along a creek. I always hesitate to pick flowers. It feels cruel tearing the flower asunder from the mother plant and as much as I love bouquets of fresh flowers, I rarely indulge. Today however, I sniffed the breeze and began to pluck tiny purple Michaelmas daisies, dropping them into a pouch as I went along. After dodging assorted bumblebees and harvesting a few flowers, I marveled at how many flowers were left. It’s as if I never touched them, so many still tilted purple under the sun. I prayed a quiet “Thank You” for the bounty of the flowers and sent a few lavender buds into the breeze in an attempt to return what I had taken. We moved onto a sumac bush.

What I did not expect was while I gathered, I felt my heart threading its way through the rising vegetation and then along the water of the cool creek glinting below. For the first time in my life, I did not want to leave my current home. The thought of leaving this small piece of restored land, profuse with flowers, bugs and animals, suddenly wrenched my heart out. I come from a long line of wanderers (as I think most Americans do) and I have always wondered where we would wander next after this home. This time, however, I did not want to wander. My hands were joined to the land as I nimbly picked leaves and flowers and now my heart was as well.

Leaves, flowers, and crabapples in hand, we wandered back and I began to build my mandala, spinning out a circle that radiated from three glowing daisies in the center. I built the art knowing that it would come swiftly apart and be sent back into the world. A certain joy caught up with me then- the joy of freedom. It’s a very gentle feeling, very small but it grew as I added leaf after leaf and flowers after flower to the circles. It continued on even as I ripped the mandala apart, sending the bounty back to the outdoors. As I cleaned up the litter and tiny bugs fallen from the petals, I reflected on how the mandala wasn’t to make money, to further my career or anything like that. It was a celebration of play. It was the gathering, the creation of beauty and then the destruction that is so necessary to our lives. The materials I loosened from the plants and trees were now settling into the earth for the next growth cycle. My internal load was lightened as well during this simple ritual. Making a mandala clears the mind and sweetly teaches the lesson of letting go.  As we head into winter, I look forward to making more mandalas out of what the season offers. Even in the depths of dark cold, there will be a few twigs and berries to lend themselves to creation.

Comments (6):

  1. Fir

    October 9, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Such gorgeousness in your getting native with Earth. Such alchemy in your intimacy with the flowers. A unification bonding with your Sense of Place. Love your delicate writings Catherine. You express a polarity with one who never wants to leave her habitat, so in love am I.

  2. grace

    October 11, 2013 at 10:14 am

    this is so very beautiful. I love the idea of your “heart threading its way through the vegetation”. Like you were becoming one with nature. <3

    I have been feeling the call to make mandalas as well and reading this post was a good motivator for me to start. Thank you!

  3. Catherine

    October 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Your comments are always such a pleasure, dearest Fir Maid. Thank you for them! Dana’s teaching me to see potential mandalas everywhere. One may just need to happen today now that fall is further in her season.

  4. Catherine

    October 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks, Marijke!

  5. Catherine

    October 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I hope you do, Grace! Once you start to notice all the little bits that nature supplies, they get super easy to make. I’m going to try one today but make it outdoors rather than in and see the different energy it creates.

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The Light Changes: Books for the Autumn Equinox

Summer is coming to a close, as usual marked by heavy rain and fitful sunshine. I woke up to a downpour a few mornings ago. It took me awhile to fully wake due to the gloom-heavy atmosphere in the bedroom. When I finally got up and opened the bedroom door, the cats were waiting in the hallway, small triangle faces tilted and full of questions; they were unsure if it was breakfast time or not due to the strange murky light. It was so dim that even the street lamps were still on.

I padded with the cats out to the living room. Water was pouring down the western windows, giving the room a half-submerged effect as if it was about to give up and dissolve with the rain. The kitchen was a little better: I opened the eastern-facing window and a heavy, damp breeze rushed into the room, lifting napkins and papers and then setting them down again.

I set the kettle going and brewed a cup of green tea, sitting down at the kitchen table with the cat. She had gathered herself into the windowsill and we drank in the oxygen heavy air together. As the wind struck my face, the sensation of being sealed up alive in the house relented and I was able to breathe easier and drink the tea slowly, savoring the light, toasted flavor. The cat looked at me a few times as I drank but she inevitably returned to staring out the window, sniffing at smells I couldn’t detected but were utterly engrossing.

The loss of morning light in autumn makes the shortening days more noticeable. I love the night but hate early evenings and as sunrises comes later and the sunsets earlier, my fingers curl a little in my pockets. The long endless nights are coming. I’m not ready for summer to end but I attempt to reconcile myself by pulling out a few books.

As the light eases towards the darkness, I pull out the books that were once the spoken word, told during the long dark evenings to family members, friends, and the community; they’re usually called fairy tales or folk tales but “wonder tales” work just as well. I make a small pile: Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

Schönwerth collected fairy tales in the 1850’s when he traveled around his beloved Bavarian homeland, listening to fairy tales and writing them down. The Grimm Brothers were recording fairy tales at this time too, racing to preserve stories that were disappearing as print culture was erasing the need for verbal storytelling. In the centuries that followed, much of Schönwerth’s recordings was preserved but many stories were lost. In 2009, Erika Eichenseer found 500 previously lost fairytales of Schönwerth’s in the municipal building of Regensburg, Bavaria. She found a fairy tale treasure. The stories were recently translated from English to German and stand alongside The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault’s fairy tales.

Next to my copy of Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess is Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Zitkála-Šá was born during the Battle of Big Horn and was educated at a boarding school that enforced assimilation of First Nations’ peoples. Despite the school’s attempts to flatten her mind, body and spirit, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota for the cardinal bird) went on to be a political activist, writer, editor, translator, educator, and musician. She recorded Dakota Sioux legends, saving them for posterity. Many of them center on the trickster Iktomi, a spider fairy. I’ve included the beginning of a legend below.

Next to Zitkála-Šá’s folk tales is Zora Neal Hurston’s Mules and Men. Around the same time Zitkála-Šá was writing, Hurston was recording African-American folk stories that were fast disappearing. She recorded the stories she heard in her home of Eatonville, Florida and other nearby communities and logging camps. These stories often center on John Henry cleverly outwitting everyone, sometimes even the devil. Alongside the folk tales, Hurston recorded her experience learning hoodoo in New Orleans. It is not for the faint of heart.

These three books and the deep histories they invoke make the evenings richer, more bearable and in closing, I leave you with this opening of Zitkála-Šá’s retelling of “Iktomi and the Muskrat”:

Beside a white lake, beneath a large grown willow tree, sat Iktomi on the bare ground. The heap of smoldering ashes told of a recent open fire.  With ankles crossed together around a pot of soup, Iktomi bent over some delicious boiled fish.

Fast he dipped his black horn spoon into the soup,, for he was ravenous. Iktomi had no regular meal times.  Often when he was hungry he went without food.

Well hid between the lake and the wild rice, he looked nowhere save into the pot of fish.  Not knowing when the next meal would be, me meant to eat to enough now to last some time.

“How, how, my friend!” said a voice out of the wild rice. Iktomi started.  He almost choked with his soup.  He peered through the long reeds from where he sat with his long horn spoon in mid-air.

“How my friend!” said the voice again, this time close at his side. Iktomi turned and there stood a dripping muskrat who had just come out of the lake.

“Oh, it is my friend who startled me.  I wondered if among the wild rice some spirit voice was talking.  How, how, my friend!” said Iktomi.  The muskrat stood smiling.  On his lips hung a ready “Yes, my friend,” when Iktomi would ask, “My friend, will you sit down beside me and share my food?”

That was the custom of the plains people.  Yet Iktomi sat silent. He hummed an old dance-song and beat gently on the edge of the pot with his buffalo-horn spoon.  The muskrat began to feel awkward before such lack of hospitality and wished himself under the water.

The rest can be read in Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings.

Please feel free to share your favorite fairy tale or folk tales in the comments section.

The Delicate Balance of a Crescent Moon

Spring is turning towards summer now. It began so delicately with a soft green — the hue of a tender rumor murmured only in off moments — but then the green rumor became bold, became the truth, and over the course of seemingly a night the grass is long, the trees are full, and the peonies are about to bloom. Every night I smell smoke and charcoal, my neighbors busy with their grills. They mow their lawns, weed their flower beds, dump their mulch, and then go to their backyards to cook up dinner.

I do none of these things. The rhythms of suburbia are pleasing to watch with their precise, ticking movements but they are less pleasing to indulge in. There’s a deep pressure to conform, and so I recede to the sanctuary of my old deck, watching the birds and bumblebees pass through my yard.

I’ve been toying with the idea of sinking a spade into the ground, ridding one area of hideous orange daylilies and planting a few tiny bits of bleeding heart and bluebell, gifts from a friend. It’s been years since I’ve played in the dirt, dug around, sorted things out, grimaced at the grubs and bugs that emerge from the dirt. Intolerable joint pain cut off many activities, and gardening was the first to go. But this year, after so many years of pursuing healing and wellness, I am feeling better and I think it might be time to poke and prod at the earth again. To see what I can do about weeds and debris.

But then again, this might not happen. The doctor told me yesterday that my body was “currently struggling with inflammation due to increased activity,” that I need to take it slower, that I needed to continue working on a low-inflammation diet.

Dreams of gardening haze in and out. It might happen this weekend, but it might not until later. Depression surges forward and I struggle with it. Life is hard with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, and there are always so many small, difficult choices to make. I chose to increase my exercises by a small amount last week; my body responded with intense shoulder pain and a flare up of inflammation throughout my system — primarily in my hands, shoulders, back, feet. It is just this way and I walk slowly through it, sometimes crying but mostly not, because life has been like this for years now and slowly, as time passes, the tears dry up.

Pain makes us discard some goals and pick others up.

There is a waning crescent moon in the sky, a thin sliver that sets in midafternoon and rises in early morning. It will soon be a new moon and then we will pass into summer.