The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


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It Began Here…

It began here, my desire for this place. The course of its existence ran through me – an energy to move a woman 2,000 miles from the shores of Lake Ontario, the fierce shield of granite and water, to a place of obsidian and sky.

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Eight years ago, standing on the edge of old Route 66, I watched clouds pass across the cobalt. I could not remain in my old life. The hard edges of the city pushed me into these skies so vast. No amount of squinting could help me to discern what’s beyond the tall grasses and deep canyons. But I knew I had to find out.

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Soft definition is what I sought; a place where I could be as lucent as abandoned buildings, yet as full as the chambers of my heart.

To be filled with movement… I desired the poetry of pulse and breath.

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To come here meant I could fly into whatever scene I wanted; to be as mutable and impelling as the clouds drifting through the valley. I craved this story. And, the beautiful thing about story isn’t the story itself, but what you can leave out.

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I choose to erase

the details of

my desire for this place.

Some things need to move through. Across dry creeks and coyote tracks, there are only traces, and a place to pick up and start walking again.

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Lands of Exposure

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Indiana Field, A. Sato

“Therefore, the places in which we have experienced day dreaming reconstitute themselves in a new daydream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as day-dreams these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all the time.”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

When I was a young girl, I used to spend many hours sitting on my grandparents’ porch, gazing at the wide field across the road. The field seemed enormous then – and frighteningly as vast as space itself. I remember a distinct sense of loneliness as I looked across that empty space and watched the sun descend. At the same time, just under the loneliness, a sense of hope, of fullness.

It’s been 6 years since I have been back. The old house is now in the possession of another family. Things, as they do when we age, seem smaller, more contained.

The last time I was there we said goodbye to my grandfather and buried him on the edge of yet another field, familiar as home since the bones of many family members rest there, too.

Before returning to the desert, I sat at the edge of that field, among violets and freshly mowed grass, and breathed in the enormity again, the space that made me feel so small against it.

I was born a child of the woods. Open space, more than the darkness of dense pine stands and overgrown creek beds, seemed to contain the elements of childhood fear: exposure, vulnerability, and enormity. In the woods I was never alone. I was surrounded by brother trees and sister animals – deer, feral dogs, squirrels, cows. In their life was a recognition of my own.

But something happened. I grew to love vastness.

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Creosote Hills, A. Sato

Throughout my adult life, my choices have always led me to the assurance of fields, prairies, deserts – perhaps to finally embrace the price of life, complete vulnerability to it.

As I now gaze across another vast terrain – one of thorn and rock – I still seek that fullness, that hope I felt as a girl on my grandparents’ porch. To meet the emptiness feels like surrendering to something more powerful than my hemmed in perception and fears.

No matter where I am, the edge of a verdant field or beneath a burning sun on blackened rock, there is always space – and in this space, possibilities beyond the imaginings of a girl and the regrets of a woman.

I know what it is I seek there… comfort.


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Red Fire Days: Autumn in Pivot Rock Canyon

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As an October baby, I have always loved autumn.  Growing up in Southern Indiana, with its poplar, redbud, walnut, and dogwood tree-covered hills, I naturally seek out places in Arizona similarly rich with plant diversity, and especially this time of year.

For those of us living in the desert, it’s necessary to adjust the senses for less garish autumnal finery. Those gilded colors I came to expect in October are hidden in washes and dry creek beds… with the remnant deaths of monsoon wildflowers, strewn against sand and cobble. The drift of fallen sunflowers and wine-hued amaranth fills the roadside ditches. And, the unexpected glance out toward the Estrella Mountains, where the wide Gila flood plains curve under the trunks of gold-trimmed Cottonwoods, conjures up nostalgia.

But, yesterday I needed the symbolic autumn of my youth, the overt heralding of change. Yesterday, I needed canyons.

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So, a friend and I set out to explore one of myriad canyons of the Mogollon Rim, a massive escarpment of limestone and sandstone that defines the southernmost edge of the Colorado Plateau. This is an area rife with deep canyons that spider out and create enormous gorges. The views are so easily lost to bewilderment. With its maze of ponderosa pine and rock, the imagination ponders how easy it would be to descend into one of those unnamed canyons and never be found again.

Our hike, however, led us to one canyon in particular… small in scope and challenge, Pivot Rock Canyon was the perfect choice.

Not really in the mood for thrills and chills, I sought a hike that would allow time for contemplating, tree-gazing, adorning the hair in yellowing oak and scarlet wild geranium leaves and burnt orange fern tendrils. The pace of this hike: easy-going… I’d find its description online, “…good for kids and dogs.” It is a daydreamer’s place, a small, wet capillary in the pulse of an otherwise dry pine body.

Starting out on an old jeep trail, we meandered through a natural park… there, some of the oaks and walnuts had begun to change their hues and a few hallowed aspens danced in pale yellow. The ground was wet from the evening’s rainstorm… the air smelled of fungi, decaying leaves, pine resin… and it was HEAVENLY.

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With my eyes fixed on the canopy above, I could have remained – lost for hours, just lying on a blanket spread on the musty, rich earth, breathing in the leaf-rot as if it could be the finest, most sensory-stimulating perfume.

Felled trees arched trunks and broken branches, downward… everything moved in the direction of slope and cliff, boulder and ridge. I, too, felt as though I had succumbed to the fall. A fall.

It is true. I had taken a rather hard fall recently, one that shook the roots and left me feeling like the only direction would be down with the drift, the torrent of summer storms, bashed and bruised – as any living thing – an instrument of greater change.

In autumn, the earth wears its mask of jewels. The harvest is a time of celebration, but only because we know what is around the forest bend – the dark nights that are closed to growth, the severe “Do not disturb,” the fin of the final reel. It doesn’t matter what yesterday’s intention was. It matters not what was felt. Now is the time we near ourselves to the ticking of choice. Accept or not. That is the inevitability of ends.

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Looking out across a meadow park, my friend and I come upon a stand of massive oaks and the last of the season’s mullein. The quickening wind moves between thoughts and occasional words. It’s important to hike with those whose need for silence matches your own.

At the end of the canyon, the remnants of an old concrete cistern attest to a once active spring. Above us, the faint hum of motorists along Highway 87 snake their way between destinations. This was not to be a long journey. The canyon, though tangled and wild, ends abruptly after a few miles, joining up with its sister canyons along the splintered map of the plateau’s vast rise.

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Canyons have a way of leading us along one adventure, only to dash our hopes with a sudden wall of tumbled rocks, then forcing us along on a different course. The dictates of its severe angles, weather patterns, movement of water…  There is a beginning and end. There are lost trails, twisted ankles, water too deep to avoid.

But, this journey was forgiving and I made peace with the hopeful wishes of being human, of falling against those hard edges and angles I was not prepared to meet. I breathed it all in. I took a last look at the shivering leaves, still beautiful beneath the afternoon sun.


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Nest of Charms, Places We Call Home

Indiana Morning - A. Sato

Indiana Morning – A. Sato

*Originally, written for SageWoman, Juniper & Crow blog

“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.” – Charles Dickens  

“We comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection. Something closed must retain our memories, while leaving them their original value as images. Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home and, by recalling these memories, we add to our store of dreams; we are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost.” – Gaston Bachelard

Home casts its spell over us long before we realize the gravity of its enchantment. The walls become the blanket between our body and the enormity of the universe. The windows bring in the sun’s warmth and the stars reflect their mirrored points in all directions. We mark the voyages we will take by the courses of our return, the ways we navigate back to home, again and again.

Coyote Hills - A. Sato

Coyote Hills – A. Sato

We rise from the same bed every morning, responding to the call of a new day or the single threatening pulse of the alarm. We are performing a ritual when we wake, make our coffee, brush our teeth. We skim the news headlines of the outside world, updates from friends in other continents. We wrap ourselves in our nest of charms and try to escape people whose lives are rife with tragedy. Wars, famines, regimes, brutality… these are the terrible fates of those far from our home.

But what is home exactly, if it is not the static entity composed of brick and mortar?

For every one of us, the definition of home changes. Home has changed for me several times over the years. No longer are we remaining in one home for several generations (or even a decade now), but rather choosing the mobile life of modern nomads, seeking better paying jobs, greener pastures. Perhaps that is why we long for a concept or a story of home, rather than rely upon our grandparents’ concept of place? Perhaps, too, that is why we cherish our symbolic homes of memory, heart, spirit, daily rituals that are veiled in consumption and desire, from that morning Starbucks coffee to the Lake Tahoe family vacation.

Home, therefore, must come alive throughout our day, in the acts that create comforts no longer found on the family farm or in our father’s home.

Home as Memory

“Home is in my longing…”
“It was the home of my father, where he grew orchids…”
“We built this home when we were married, almost 70 years ago…”

Abandoned II - A. Sato

Abandoned II – A. Sato

Today is my grandmother’s 92nd birthday. I spoke to her while driving down from my two-day sojourn to the craggy, rugged canyons of the Dripping Springs Mountains, where the last of the Arizona monsoon rains poured through granite and limestone. This is a place where I once followed mountain lion tracks into the chaparral forest of scrub oak and manzanita, searching for that wildness that needs me, that I perceive to need me.

I am never ready to leave these places, these forests of imagination – landscapes that hold more of my devotion than calculated homes in the arms of lovers or friends. Here is a longing of the sailor setting off to sea. Here I am uprooted yet devoted.

What is home?

My grandmother’s voice on the end of the line spoke of an angelic recollection of her 70-year marriage, never quite ready to depart. She spoke of memories of grandchildren dancing with fireflies near the garden, the rough hands of the man she loved for years – those spaces that nothing now can fill.

We whisper apologies to the now, knowing we – in our angels’ arms – can never begin to be present. Everything builds upon itself, after all, stone by stone.

To the paramour of memory, home resides in the photographic stills of brothers and sisters, the grainy film traditions of Christmas trees or holiday exchanges, memorabilia of births and deaths. These conceptual homes drift in and over us. They are never permanent and never quite the same. Memory, it is said, works in pleasant states. We remember with greater clarity those moments of joy than those of pain or ache.

Our brains, in essence, carry the nostalgic home of our past into the future, residing with us as identity, an unfulfilled longing to re-create but to never grasp totally.

Going No where - A. Sato

Going No where – A. Sato

Home as Mirror

Home as an object – We are expressed in the things we adore, in the things we adorn. Favorite antiques, a trunk containing our grandmother’s wedding dress, our kitchen table where we share our bread and wine. Objects of desire. Objects that reflect our layered years. From the first snipped locks of a child’s hair, to tea pots, to grain piled high in a barn loft, these things contain a bit of soul. The orchards in July – can you smell them now?

I remember my face pressed against the cold concrete blocks of the root cellar, where jars of tomatoes, green beans, new potatoes, and pickles lined the interior wall – cobwebbed walls that smelled of home, the secret place of my hiding, the fearless place of darkness.

We spend our lives looking for these places reflected in the outreaches of another’s world, in cobble-stoned streets of tourist towns, in the slight hope of recognition. And, when we find them – the traces of familiarity looking back at us, we hold tight to the closing space.

It is the nearness of home we seek.

We look for a spouse who holds within him the odor of crushed rosemary, the scented walls and tumbling paths. We want to find mirrored places: the way a new house reminds us, if only in angles and arches, of who we once were years ago.

Reaching - A. Sato

Reaching – A. Sato

Home as Spirit

“A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home… for new metaphors for life. It leads home.” – Hermann Hesse

My life has been composed of symphonic wandering – a music of movement. For those of us called to the road, home is a most curious and confusing of concepts. We are nomads, fixed only to our own soles. Many misunderstand us. Even more accuse us of not being drawn to place, committed and devoted to one single plot of land. I would argue otherwise.

In wandering, one may come closer to Self, just as the home can mirror Self. On foot, we may feel even closer to the truth of existence. As strangers, we hold no allegiance to one place, but we are also untethered to stogy, logged opinions and facts. We may walk through the woods and see familiar faces: lupine, dayflower, aster, grey fox, white-tailed deer, bobcat.

Likewise, the strangers among the streets of Denver, Chicago, Portland find their rituals in an old map, a street that beckons, conversation dancing over the heads of commuters on trains. Home is on one’s back, in a deep purse, or simply sheltered in the heart of the adventurous.

There is an underlying spirit to being fully aware in the world.

Ascetics live with very little in order to remove the common desires and cumbersome load of things. People remove the soporific weight of drugs, alcohol, tv, mindlessness in order to go deeper into themselves, into the naked, exposed, yet spirited real. Pagans and mystics, earth lovers and roaming dreamers cannot contain the world within –

It tumbles down into our lives, filling us no matter where we lay our bodies down at night.

Stone - A. Sato

Stone – A. Sato

Home is spirit, a spiraling sense of wonder within our truest nature.

We are a nation that seeks its rituals and habits, yet has lost the magic of places that claim us, places we give ourselves to and commit to for our lifetimes. But, home is in our common existence and our daily yearnings. It is not forever and never so grounded it cannot go for a walk or daydream.

Perhaps this is the mistake we make – looking for those familiar hills of our youth, as if we can picture them so completely, we might return – just one last time. Home is…


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The Fields

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* The Fields first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Plant Healer Magazine

“The morning air was like a new dress. That made her feel the apron tied around her waist. She untied it and flung it on a low bush beside the road and walked on, picking flowers and making a bouquet… From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything.”

― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

 

“Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.”

― Willa Cather

It’s early morning. The sun has not yet ascended. I am in the field – a field of my own imagination and freedom. The night has meaning that I am not obliged to compose. The night is a terrible myth only the healing fields can erase. My siblings are asleep. My mother is nowhere. I don’t know her and she left years ago. My father is at work. I am only 16, but I know how to run a house. I know how to evade misery and I know how to dream.

The horses in the field are aware of my escape. They are sleepy with my visions. I come here to talk to them, to tell them how a girl will one day live in France. I am a wanderer, but I am always married to these woods, to the pond, to the strange flight of swallows and the pervasive faces of Black-Eyed Susans that lean in and surround my victim heart. They tell me I can bend in this. They tell me that the harshness of being alive will scatter my song into fields I can never dream of knowing. The Queen Anne’s lace agrees. She knows I look west – how can I not? The setting sun means that this day is over, and I wanted only just to get through the day then. I wanted the pull of tides and the warmth of the dry earth to tell me that it will be over… soon.

At night the sound of bullfrogs in unison keep me company – the earth’s drums. Fireflies light their way through paths of dogwood, sassafras, and walnut trees. Black walnuts, I will learn, are bitter but make wonderful stain for the bodies of guns and the hair of bold girls who hate their golden locks. All autumn I will watch the men of my family bbeaversbluff3oil up the walnuts over an open fire, then use the stain on their muzzleloaders. It’s deer season. The trees are in full fall plumage and the odor of fireplaces and errant embers blankets the terrain. The fields are aglow with gold and bronze –between the black dots of cattle, the wheat and grasses burn across the landscape and rise into the outline of crows and trees, the somber shades of a darkening season.

The family, the home, doesn’t control everything that happens in childhood. I, being the oldest of so many children, never felt contained by the rooms and routines of the domestic life. I felt alone among my childhood walls. In the fields, I was with the world. The sun’s gracious warmth and the nocturnal ballads of screech owls and cicadas filled my young life with a social song of otherworldly friendship – of love that would not come with high price and cold reality.

During the summer months, I would climb over limestone boulders to swim in abandoned quarries filled with years of rain. There was a danger in those stones I knew in every step – the boys who would circle around us girls, staring at our breasts, groping for pleasure in the moonlight of expectation and longing. A fox sprite, I would scramble across each boulder, half-clothed, ignoring the admonitions of danger – the very real causalities of abandoned places where several wanton youth perished or injured themselves with a false step or an ill calculated dive. Still, I would not fear stone as I would fear the circling of humans, the risk of love.

Summers were spent on horseback, exploring the woods that surrounded the 40 acres of farmland I grew up within. My friends and I would spend hours lounging on the mossy earth, making pinwheels from the flowers of the giant tulip trees that lined the yard. Abandoned houses stood exposed in their brick and stone secrets where we found incredible gifts of the past: old school books, clothes, rotting trunks, fabric, discarded chairs…. Climbing the rotten steps and inching our way between holes in floorboards, we asked the Ouija board about our future. Would there be love? Would there be children? Even in asking, I knew I did not belong to the stories of these girls, my then friends. I knew the woods spoke to me of something else – and named me what I could not name myself.

Like a bell jar over these scenes, I uncover the sensory memory – this place belongs to me just as I remain there. I have trouble remembering the names of schools, teachers, and old friends. I cannot tell you one fond memory of high school, but I can walk you through every branch, every cornfield, and every sinkhole with its murky mystery with impeccable clarity – the use of every sense, the body-knowledge of a wolf.

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As a child, I waited in fields for some salvation from the human world. As a child, I thought little of erroneous pop culture myths and urban pressures. I knew only these fields that carried a song across veins of stream beds. I collected arrowheads among clay and sandstone alcoves, high above rivers. There were ancient others who understood the seasons and gave voice to the living world. I longed to know these people. I dreamed they would come and find me, waiting there among the eroding banks.

There is something innately spiritual and mythical about land and water, plant and sky. The earth asks us to both dig deep into our roots and find peace but also to explore the limits of life on the surface – to know that life is harsh and lovely, unfair yet fully present. There is very little within me that did not directly grow from the pleasure of place. As the fog of violence entered in, I managed to remain truly connected to hope. Survival was all around me. The young of other species were not spared. They adapted or died. I took this lesson in and held on, used my wits, and stayed rooted in the brutal beauty of life.

I was a girl of fields. I was a girl forced to become a woman too soon. Yet I remember being in those apple orchards with the bees looming between my footsteps. I remember picking rhubarb for cobblers; hiding between grapevines to jump out and scare my brother… these were the memories that formed my identity.

If my writing has some greater purpose or some message to share, I want it to be with the desperate child who has no wild ally, the lost one who has no land to adore. This is one who – unless artificially protected – will not adapt and therefore stands a greater chance of passing tPicture 270he violent lineage on through commerce, procreation, and self-abasement. This is the dominance of a hopeless world of acquisition and subterfuge. This is the one who comes to a visual feast of delight with no eyes.

The last time I visited the hillsides and fields of Southern Indiana, I spent some time at the grave sites of my ancestors. The church cemetery, I couldn’t even begin to show you where it is on a map. I only know how to get there by the blood pulse of who I am, instinct. This is a resting place of farm families and Depression era babies, of Welsh and French miners. The place is thick with ferns and Virginia pines. Everything is tinged with moisture and I am still in love with the smell of damp earth, something my Southwestern home has never been able to provide.

Across from the cemetery, there is a field that has been used by farmers for several generations. Not one building has stood on that soil. I have my sleeping bag and a telescope. Under the barbed wire I slip and find a good place to bed down for the night. Already, the cold has settled in and the cicadas have descended. Grasshoppers share the warmth of my bag – the sky above: blackness and stars. Who can say what home truly is, what defines the domestic? Is it the family, children? Is it a house we work hard to buy? Or a lover to bring us into our own senses through touch and giving?

In these fields I was alone, but I was home. I did not care to run or spoil the moment with worries about my life. It did not occur to me to want to be protected, or in dreams of France or some other country. I nestled into my bag – where the girl met the hold of the earth – and slept like someone who has found genuine belonging.


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The Camouflaged Woman: Celebrating Irreverent Beauty & Natural Expression

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** Re-blogged from Juniper & Crow, my SageWoman channel.

For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value. ~ Claude Monet

I recently made the decision to reduce or eliminate most of the items in my make-up bag and medicine cabinet, and return to my nature girl status – using make-up and other such products minimally. The list of synthetic and chemically derived ingredients in many of the products I was using was astounding and contributing to consumer/identity guilt as well as dry skin. In this process, I explored more natural product lines – especially lipstick, not wanting to give up the occasional sensuality of a raspberry stained pout. In choosing to purge these products, I have considered the myriad reasons women elect to go “au naturel” – to discard products and opt for the glow of a face that is exposed to fresh air, sunlight and heart-pounding rock scrambles. Going through my wardrobe, I noticed how many clothes I never wear – shirts, skirts, dresses, suits… items that were acceptable for the office, but not at all my style or expression.

In the past I have vehemently defended any woman’s choice to call herself a feminist or independent spirit AND wear make-up, shave her legs and change her appearance as often as she pleased to complement certain situations – or, dare I say, to attract a mate. While I was going through the process of discarding those precious and coveted brands: MAC, Mary Kay, Sephora, etc.. I considered the rigid perspective I have held on natural beauty as being, well, natural. Just as natural as appearing bare-faced as I was born, is this urge to be incognito, to use the body and face as an artistic palette – a landscape of one’s deepest beliefs, dreams, culture, age and life changes. Being natural is being in a state of flux, adapting to change. Beauty and self-expression – beyond the scheme of vanity – are indeed statements of being “seen” by one’s community, one’s peers.

To simplify beauty into two fixed categories where one side exalts heavy-blossomed fashionable ladies, dripping cosmetic dew, while the other side is stripped like a winter branch, a very austere interpretation of liberated womanhood, neglects the metaphor, pleasure and ritual alive in adornment. I believe many of the women I admire – the chosen iconoclasts – do not toe the line of beauty standards and definitions. Rather, their beauty rituals are rooted in themes of metamorphosis, camouflage and art. Beauty is found in change. Beauty is transformative, unruly, hidden or explicit… In other words, true self-expression lies in whatever the creator desires.

While there are many examples of cultural beauty rites and practices and articles on such a topic, my focus is on the types of expression not typically found in Revlon ads or feminist journals or anthropological studies. This essay does not seek to illustrate the cultural, societal, religious or commercial standards and challenge these from a political or social platform. What I am interested in, through my own stumbles of interpretation and myth, is the sublime force of physical adornment as ritual, the surreal elements of style and beauty, the wyrd and wonderful archetypes and manifestations.  I hope  all goddess- and empowered women explore their own ecstatic personas: lovely, horrible and unknown.

ImageThe Horned Woman is a persona that resonates deeply with me. I have a secret bond with deer, reindeer and antelope folk. I believe my heart is partially composed of the blood of a doe. Consider, for example, a woman’s response to danger, that alarming moment of stillness and bloodpulse. Imagine your life among a blaze of new prairie grass where you walk into the morning, quietly grazing and nudging the soft tip of your fawn’s nose. Inching into the cobalt horizon, the sun rises with the arc of this dream. Suddenly there is movement. The forest woman becomes the yellow lines, the still brook – her young blends with the creeping wind of grass and snow.  The horned woman’s style is that of hidden danger, of morning – the grey dress made of wool spun in Wales, the shawl of soft ewe wool spun in Lukachukai. The horned woman’s eyes are pools of almond light. She moves unheard in the soft soil – moccasins along sandy washes. Deer women have an aversion to chatter and prefer the silence of the woods. She is used to being uprooted. She will walk away when things get used up, spent.

Horned women are not so unlike reptiles: they are stone observers warmed by the sun.  They are misunderstood arrows soaring across dunes, plains and prairies. The song of the horned woman is the song of the whippoorwill, the song of the rifle. Her hair is often tangled, long and filled with dried leaves. Her dress hems are threadbare. She leaves trails that disappear with thImagee new snow, or with the shifting of sand. She is comfortable with her scars and does not suppose what others make of them. Her breath always shows in the air and her cheeks are ruddy with the autumn wind.

I am heartened
in this vast lonely land
by the room for affection.
~ Harney County Lessons, Angela AllenImage

Deer women adorn their bodies not with the palette of cosmetics, but the moss and hanging gardens of the forest and the gauze and cotton of sunbaked sand. She dreams her surroundings. If you personify the beauty of the deer, you are drawn to muted tones that allow you to dream and dance unencumbered. The musky smells of sex and earth are your perfumes. You stay close to the fire and polish your rifle. You don’t mess with the naïve love of starlets and do not comprehend being unprepared. Your expression is the bucolic longing of a country home in the moors, or a teepee in snow, or simply moving. You have the sharp gaze of a thorn in skin.

The horned lady loves changing in subtle and calculated ways. She is the mysterious portrait of trees and a beating heart no one can see or pierce.

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Water women choose their colors as the tides move under La Luna. There is an erratic and sometimes tsunami rhythm to what they wear and how they work the energy around them. The mermaid is the embodiment of a love that moves close and the enticing danger of a rocky island when she is adrift. She is Collette, the independent yet romantic women who raises the bar on sensuality. She is turquoise and azure, yes, but also fuchsia, hot pink, lime green lightning bolts across cheekbones. She holds prized dyed silk in one hand and ambrosia in the other.  In recent years, Disney has capitalized on the young girl’s fascination with color and water, of romance and the seashell-covered underwater princess. This is a diminishment of the oceanic force of the water woman’s abilities and intuition. The expression of this woman is psychic – sound is felt not heard. She is the first to dance in sequins and boa on the bar. She is the teal-draped siren of a Waterhouse painting.

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“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
~ Anaïs Nin

Rather than moor inland for her rescuer, fairytales and folklore paint this bejeweled woman as the enticer – the temptress to crash ships and lure men away from safe harbor – hardly the innocent sea nymph. Still, the water woman is no shallow girl to be labeled meek or cruel. To embody the ocean, a woman must be able to walk along the shore with the haunting shipwrecks and cliff-thrown bodies, with the whalesongs of dying sea life.

For the love of all sea creatures, the water woman is an advocate, a protector – and often her love of environmental activism defines her. She is frequently seen in t-shirts with statements that exemplify her beliefs, or in waders collecting samples of water. She is the soft-eyed seal and the mother orca.

Her expression of style is never mired in trends and never limited by ready-made fashions. She is often creative and makes her own garments. Gold is her metal and she forges the tides with orange and teal locks curled around her waist.  She is at home in her skin. Nude is her favorite state with the occasional coat of moonlight as she strolls among the lilies and beaver ponds, along the basalt cliffs of the Atlantic.

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“The Mountain teaches the dreaming…” Unknown

The Sorceress, The Steppe Witch – I have met very few women who embody the nebulous and sometimes frightening qualities of these mistresses of mountains, caves and mazes. What is most lovely about this woman is perhaps her rare character, her ability to be a map of storylines and ancestry. She is unafraid to be fierce. She is the Voodoo Priestess, Kali Ma, Oya – keeper of the cemetery.  In her, the sands shift as she wanders the dreamtime in search of lizards, spirals, dance. Hers is the darkness. Her color is yellow – the bee mistress concealed in the bud. Her stone is obsidian with which she cuts the patterns of her skin, strips the hides for her dress.
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Because of her fearless and healing abilities, her focus on dress and appearance is limited to the truest expression of magic and ritual. She is the La Loba on the bajadas. She is the thousand stars shining for spells and mirrors.

yes sir friends
sour is sweet things break
the yearning returns home
and abroad hungry is hungry.
~ Gary Gildner

The steppe witch is a spell caster, a bone reader. Her home is filled with mirrors and roots, black lace and red light. She is the one you see after taking a long journey, and in her courtyard she invites you in to be among her chickens and goats, to wait beneath a gnarled old tree for her clients to leave. She always seems older than her age, although she retains a youthful vibrancy in her smile. She is the song of a New Orleans jazz band and the funeral mass. More than her appearance, you will never forget the perfume of her – something like lingering smImageoke and rum.

“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
~ Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles

The mistress of mountains is gauze – white knuckle, brilliant in the glow of a candle. She is always hungry and makes no shame in this. She wears aprons and collects a chicken for the pot. The stones that line her path and her pocket tell stories. She is perhaps less interested in attracting a mate with her physical attire because she has come to rely on the pulse of sensuality in her power.

ImageThe most tender place in my heart is for strangers.
I know it’s unkind but my own love is much too dangerous…
~ Hold On, Hold On, Hold On, Neko Case

The Ethereal Woman – She is the temporary fix. She is the weekend in Miami, front row seats, pink bubblegum gloss. The ethereal woman makes you believe in her fairytales. She is the embroidered pillowcases of her farmland. She stands on porches and gazes Imageout at the places she might one day see. The ethereal woman is  the ticking grandfather clock. Her colors are baby blues and dewy mauves, peppermints, lemony yellows. She is the woman in a 1950’s Comet cruising Route 66. While she seeks independence, she always stops for love (at least, temporarily). She believes the stories told by the women in her family and looks like her mother.

She is Ferris wheels and lights blazing up, the stuffed animals on a young girl’s bed. She has dreams that include you – the man who would love her, but she is as light as a feather for your promise.

The ethereal is the dove, the bird girl. She is the cheerleader uniform and the prom dress, but only on the surface. Under her soft façade, there is the metallic composure of lessons learned.
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The ethereal woman wears chiffon and walks with her head tilted back in a permanent laugh. She is not the tomboy and doesn’t pretend to be, but her strength resides in the heritage of the needle dropping on old records and the tractor’s morning hum. She learns her grandmother’s recipes. She is the first crush, the last to leave.

Like this I love you,
as you dress
and how your hair lifts up
and how your mouth smiles,
light as the water
of the spring upon the pure stones,
Like this I love you, beloved.
~ And because love battles, Neruda

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The Heroine is essential to the story of womanhood. Who better to defeat the myth of girlishness?  I have included the heroine because – just as her male counterpart – the female overachiever appears more frequently in social roles and styles now than ever before.  She is the anime girl with a sword and wolf companion. She wears the stiletto heels of a financial district entrepreneur. She kills it. Everything is in her control. The heroine is not Mother Theresa or Florence Nightingale; she is the hit woman for justice. She Imagewon’t change or soften – don’t try. She is the calculation of prison girls who use the perfume of shadows to seduce cell mates – her cohorts. She can enlist troupes, lead nations. Her world is spinning between her fingers.  She is neither good nor bad but finds the dirty work of protection and rebellion necessary and within her domain of skill and talent.

The heroine will choose her work over everything. She has the searing insight and dedication to achieve more than most, and she is likely adept in metal crafts and other forms of visual arts. She is the eco warrior, the desert dweller. She gives up children in order to have her wild roaming and access to the road. She is leather and tobacco. She smokes, cusses, drinks and gambles. She is unafraid to run with the boys and takes the miles under her belt like a trucker. Under her prowess and tough exterior, she cares for her people, her community and her traditions. She will fight for her land. She is not afraid of death or displacement, but possession is her nemesis.
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I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
~ Her Kind, Anne Sexton

The modern heroine is incense and badger. Her sign is made of crossbones. She can be a trickster when she needs to be, but abhors false fronts and pretenses. She takes what she needs, but does not fall to trivialities and indulgences. She is latex and Outback. Tattoos are her make-up and she usually has several by the time she’s 21. Sharp-witted and skilled, be wary of challenging her. She will win.

These are but five examples of women and their mythologies. There are important rituals and practices that live through beauty and self-adornment. Modern cosmetics are but a trivial matter in the larger meaning of body worship and shapeshifting, of embodiment and metaphor. A woman will use the magic of her surroundings to express deep connection to the land, tradition, womanhood, heritage, motherhood and all other roles she chooses for herself. The masks we exhibit are not necessarily means of camouflaging our true natures but rather illustrate the complex and multifaceted personalities and idiosyncrasies alive in each of us. We are several composites of the roles we walk into and with during a lifetime. These are to be celebrated as the manifestations of our very nature, our stories as shown to the world within and without.


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Deer in the Desert: Scenes from the Sonoran and Beyond

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In the desert, everything awakens in autumn. I, too, feel my senses sharpen, my desire to leave the people world for the world of bewilderment. I am not to be found in the city on any given weekend, but prefer to spend my time traversing washes and slopes in search of new adventure. I become the kit fox that circles your campfire. I have a mind to run and roam, to kick up the dirt and steal some of your sanity, to lose my heart. Everything – from thistle to peak – burgeons, including my imagination and hunger for exploration and observation across the cooked basalt pavement and saguaro-laden ridges of my desert home.  This is a time of silence and recollection. There is something immensely sensual about the desert light in winter – the blues of a lover’s eyes and the painted doors of adobes – the pink hum of the mouth and tongue – the reds of embers and cool tiles – and the violets bursting through the robes of royals and the tapestries of a woman’s innermost thoughts. These colors keep me reeling in the beauty of what some people who have not experienced this home call stark. Austerity is a white walled room with no windows. Austerity is a false freedom we gobble up. There is nothing austere or dull about the desert… everything is in some form of changing light and shadow. Movement is slow but ever-present, and the landscape itself, comprised of grains and dispersed cholla, is alive with its shifting and yawning.

Lately, I have been perusing my photos from the past six years of living here in the Southwest. I feel compelled to share a sort of word journal and collage of imagination, of sites and sensual feasts, a poem to the land. Just by recollecting the moment my boots hit the entry point to a special wash or a hidden valley of water, I return. Perhaps this endeavor is also to share an intimacy of place with the reader who may never see or exist within the boundaries of this fevered land.

These are favorite moments, small time capsules and episodes of beauty that leave me forever related to this wild, immense dreamscape.

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Sunset on Babbitt Ranch, a place called Little Wild Bill… the air is starting to cool as I squint in the sun through the branches of alligator junipers. I look down to find a serrated projectile point, possibly archaic… antelopes run into my periphery, then into the horizon where something I want, an ache, awaits.

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A man walks out onto a granite lookout above Tonto Creek, near the Mogollon Rim. The black outline of rock and impending snow brings out the intensity of dark green and the hunger of deer. Who says Arizona is nothing but sand has never walked this place or seen the way a man’s shadow can look like a bird’s, like verdant hope.

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It’s July and the heat has settled into the concrete and breath of everything. I step outside to the perfume of queen of the night, those heavy moon-worshipers, illuminating asphalt, conversation and secrets. My collection of bones line the side of the house, a lovesong to death and the promise of something beyond this city, something creeping under highway metal and running towards home.

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Perry Mesa volunteer project … and down we go to the promise of an afternoon swim in the Verde River… the basalt boulders make for a wild ride as we ascend and descend, ridge after ridge. Beyond the clouds, the Mazatzals rise as stained purple tablecloths against this table of sand and time.

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Sometimes I need to drive. When everything collapses, there is the road and bad coffee, crows and absolution. Every night there are shots of whiskey and motels. What destination can find you when everything else has fallen into the sky?

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Recognition happens in a moment. I stand on an old tree stump, a cut for the coming tourist season. I look out at the river below and the climbing sacrosanct peaks of the La Platas. Snow still covers the northern slopes. The aspens are thick with their desire – those pale women stand together, afraid of being alone. I am only five minutes from my home, a little strawbale, but here is eternity and I want to become this place, these cold drifts and promises.

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This is a bad sign and I am an intruder… there are hexes and omens I ignore for a peek down into the trail. The turquoise water snakes its course, one thousand feet below. I could jump. I could be nothing. I leave but tempt the night with a quick look back, over my shoulder, to where people left for the journey of salt.

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There are times when the wild doesn’t want you. I arrive with my head full of questions, hellbent or perhaps just bent by the disease of being too much with the cacophony of hell. I did not leave it. I brought it to the top. I wave my arms and scream out from the gang of pines. There is no song for the impatient. I am a closed coffin of betrayal. The wild wants an opening.

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I am a little like coyote in my stone house with my curious eyes and smile that conceals. I am the dirt bath and the morning run through washes, behind carbon copied homes, threatening the babies of suburbia. I am not a friend. I may eat at your table and shit on your bed.

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Making fry bread and speaking of horses near Narbona Pass – this is the way to learn. There is always something to do or fix, but afternoons under the trees with my friends, laughing and preparing dinner… this is the work of women, the skirt of chance.

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There is fire. There is the immolation of this destiny. The woods will soon be gone. The animals have fled. I cannot help but stay with the anger until the ashes fall.

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I came here to know a peace. I came here to write the names of those who have come before, to gather or to bleed. I came to write poems but have been silenced many times. Already, the ravens are waiting, singing.