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I am UmberDove.

And by that, I mean an artist.  One who hears stories in the wind, who paints because it is what her soul tells her to do, who smiths because the muse moves through her fingertips, who loves nothing more than the promise of an unexplored trail, the sound of the ocean in her ears, and scent of a serious cup of coffee.

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Filtering by Category: Storytelling

Road Stories, Part 1: Idaho

Kelly Clark

[Two weeks on the road, driving through the interior West, sleeping under the stars, living out of the Jeep, watching our skin turn brown, racing to the next lake, food cooked over flames, scratching bug bites, and most of all, just living.  Seeing.  Hearing.  Intaking.  There was far too much, and simultaneously just enough.  These are the smallest snippets of sketchbook writings, list makings, and memories.]

Here is the thing about those first few days: It was all about the Lake.  Driving east that first day, six hours later than we had planned but leaving one spotless house behind, I felt the pangs of excitement rising up right alongside the temperature and the altitude.  But it was diving into that chest-clenching initial shock of clear water that loosened something too tight for too long.  It was all about those gleeful moments of ridiculous hysteria when the scales that cover your throat fall off and the only noise to be heard is laughter.  Laughter at the joy of swimming with your dobie, laughter at the way too-big bikini bottoms put on a show for shorebirds, laughter at foot propellers, lies about water warmth, puppy package shrinkage, and the holy glory of seeing nothing but a thousand rippling waves under blue skies.

The second night we walked the lake edge during the golden hour, light slanting sideways through trees and illuminating the choicest wildflowers.  I felt the second layer of scales fall (how many do we have? how many do we simply live with?).  The shafts of sunset hung heavy and hot, the dogs were panting before we had even walked a mile and I regretted changing into jeans.  It was here, through the brush and bloom and aging deadfall we found a low spot in the banks.  Freyja barreling in as the fish-dog, swimming out towards foreign mountains for the sheer joy of it, Sancho tentative to swim deeper than his legs could reach.  For a moment I debated, but the beads of sweat behind my knees and the cool of the lake demanded stripping down to naught but skivvies and jumping all in.  Water on skin, pond grass between toes, hiding from the passing fishing boat with snorting laughter and again, that bubbling joy rising up to loosen the scales.

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The air held that sticky heat, the kind that nestles into the folds of elbows and knees, the kind that renders down sleeping bags utterly useless.  Laying on my back, eyes closed, I could still the see the light of the waxing moon through my lids, through the trees.  He was hot.  We all were, but I rolled over anyways and laid my cheek on his chest.  The Giant Dipper spooned down between the ponderosa pines, reaching in vain towards the lake and I couldn't help but storytell myself to sleep.  I imagined the whole pantheon of heros and goddesses relegated to the night sky, sweltering in this high summer heat.  How one clever immortal must be up there, spooling down that great ladle of stardust to scoop up sweet cold, the bargains being struck for a single gulp of sweet, earthy waters.  I wondered if the Pleiades swam in this very lake, the same one I could still smell in my damp hair.  I wondered how may others, for how many thousands of years have laid on their backs in this same forest, gazing at these same stars, whiling away the evenings storytelling the morals of their ancestors.

I should ask the pines.  I know they've listened over countless fires for countless years.  I'm glad my voice has now too risen through their boughs, along with the sage I burned and the tale I spun.

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Ancestral Mythology, Vol 4: People of the Bear

Kelly Clark

This is a story of long ago, beyond the time that you or I or even our great-grandmothers can remember, when our ancestors were only children.  The Children were small, slight, with bright eyes and quick feet.  They knew the scent of the river after the thaw, they understood the speed of coyotes and the night-song of the owls.  They ran hard on the open plains and padded silently in the deep forest.   By day they gathered thimbleberries and by night they sang to the stars.  But the Children did not sleep.  Day after day they traveled, ate, danced and watched, but they saw only the existence before them, the Ordinary Reality of life.  The world was too wild then, too reckless, too hungry, and the Children were too busy surviving.

As days, months, years passed, the Children grew tired.  They grew lean of leg and lean of heart, worn down by the harshness of the young earth.  On a late spring day, as they strode through twiggy forests thick with moss, their path led them to a narrow cleft in the mountainside.  This, they thought, may be a safe place to rest so one by one, they slipped into the dark.  Inside the passage widened and the Children found themselves in a warm cavern, dry and sweet smelling.  The birdsong outside grew hushed and the air made their eyelids heavy.  Just as the children were crouching down to sit, a voice deeper than honey rolled up from the back of the cave.  

"Who is this who enters my home?"

One small girl edged forward. "It is us, the Children of the Earth, and we wish you no harm but we are so tired.  Bone tired.  So tired we could cry.  Won't you let us rest here for the night?"

From the shadows a rustle of fur moved forward until a damp, black nose was inches from the girl's face.  It breathed deep, pulling in the scent of the Children along with the secrets of their hearts.  After a long moment, Bear stood up.  

"Children," she began, "why do you not sleep?  You wear exhaustion like sweat on skin, and your minds have not looked up from the effort of survival in far too long."  The girl spoke, "Dear Bear, when ever we close our eyes, we see only darkness without end and we have no one to protect us from the beasts of the world.  Please do not make us leave."

Bear softened.  "Children, come close.  I have long teeth and sharp claws for protecting the young.  I have deep fur and a strong heartbeat to warm your skin.  But most importantly, I have the secrets of the dark, the trail to follow into the Non-Ordinary World, the world where stars swim in lakes and humans fly in the night sky.  Rest your heads, close your eyes, and I will sing you into the dreamtime."  She spread wide her great paws and all the Children crowded close, faces nestled into her shaggy brown hide.  As soon as their breathing slowed, she began to sing.  Her voice rose up from the deepest roots of the mountain and echoed back from the farthest galaxy.  And for the first time, the Children closed their eyes and the darkness rolled back.  They flapped wings, spoke in unknown languages and understood secrets never seen before.  Mysteries were manifest in images and the stars revealed themselves as family.

No one knows how long Bear sang, or how long the Children slumbered in dreamtime.  But when they woke, the cavern was cool and empty.  They crawled out under the night sky, calling for Bear, when a twinkle above caught their eye.  Seven new stars shone out in the black and the Children saw Bear was watching out for them from high above the earth.  

 Ancestral Mythology: People of the Bear  (sterling silver and Morenci Turquoise

Ancestral Mythology: People of the Bear  (sterling silver and Morenci Turquoise

From that day on, the Children knew whenever the sun sank and the moon rose, they could close their eyes to the ordinariness of this reality and swim into the magic of the non-ordinary world.  For Bear had bestowed the gift of dreams upon the Children, that they might always see more than meets the eye.

And that dear children, is how we became a People of the Bear.

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The Sweetest Grass (plus Give-a-Way Braid for YOU)

Kelly Clark

- A Story - 

When I was 18, I was convinced I was a bonafide herbalista. I started my first garden on the rickety balcony of a cheap apartment in central California.  Three plastic tubs housed a smattering of red leaf lettuce, sweet basil and one slightly tragic tomato plant.  Meager though my garden was, I fell in love: the lettuces were snipped and placed on hand-me-down plates, the basil was plucked for all those experimental meals one creates as a poor college student, and the tomato saw me as a hovering mother hen, checking water at least twice a day.  

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In the 15 years since that first garden, I've moved countless times up and down west coast, a nomadic wanderer of sorts, but I've always managed to carve out a gardening space.  Sometimes no more than a tiny porch, sometimes as broad a sunny driveway full of containers, but I've always grown something.   However, the caveat of limited, container-based spaces always translated into a fine display of pragmatism:  If I only had six square feet of space, then I obviously needed to grow six square feet of vegetables that would nourish my family and herbs that would spice up our teas.  Anything else seemed to flippant to "waste" my precious room on.  This mind-frame ruled my planting choices for a great many years: window beds were always filled with collard greens and kale, baskets hung heavy with strawberries and cherry tomatoes, ceramic pots at the front door grew lemon cucumbers and thyme.

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Then late last winter, something shifted.  For years I had been purchasing crisp white smudge bundles of sage and thick braided ropes of sweetgrass from consciences companies, never thinking too deeply on the lives of the plants before they offered their medicine up to me.  I did not know where exactly those plants sunk roots into the earth, how they unfurled and grew throughout the seasons, who tended them (if anyone aside from Mother Earth), and with what ceremony were they harvested for my sacred use.  And suddenly, it became Important.  The sacred practice of smudging was a daily ceremony for me, yet I felt unconnected to where these herbs came from.  As I walked through my home, wafting smudge smoke, cleansing the air, I realized that I wanted to, no, needed to understand that process.  I already understood what it was to grow seeds into food to place on my family's plates, but the act of tending life that would nourish my spiritual practice illuminated a new fire in my heart.  

Armed with the power of Google, I found a gardener in Northern California who would ship out baby sweetgrass, still infantile in their propagation plugs.  After the last frost melted from the Seattle ground, my postman delivered a small package holding six wee bundles, each carefully wrapped and tucked in plastic and paper.  And the mother hen, from that first tomato so many years ago, came back out.  

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As the months slipped into high summer, my garden bloomed on.  Tomatoes, beans, carrots, berries, greens were all gratefully plucked for our bodies and bones.  But the sweetgrasses were something different; they were deigned for our hearts and minds.  So it was to them I sang the longest songs of thanks, them I combed over and cleaned with the gentlest hand, them I brought out gratitude offerings of aventurine chips and crushed sage.  And under that love, they thrived like I would have never expected, growing fat and glossy leaves, wafting their earthy vanilla scent over all the garden.  

When I harvested them, it was with appreciation that bubbled up from my very marrow for I knew these plants.  I knew what they looked like with dew drops sparkling, how they smelled when the wind lifted their leaves, how quickly they grew when the sun shone bright.  I was the first to tuck them into soil, I was the one to watch them grow, and I will be the one to feel their sacredness every time I light a braid.  I harvested as much as I needed for the year and left the rest to the earth, for their perennial roots.  Now, as the autumn settles deeply and the mornings promise frost, I see my sweetgrass settling in for the winter sleep.  And when I light one of those pale vert braids, my heart will know that it was in the sacredness of full understanding, full season, full circle.

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 Now for you, my friends, I'd love to offer one of my precious sweetgrass braids.  Just a simple little gift-a-way, from my hands and heart to yours, this baby will be wrapped up with love and a couple other small goodies from me.  

To enter, just leave me a comment below!  Say hello, tell me a story of your autumn, or what delicious concoction you're sipping right now.  I'll pick a winner at random on Wednesday November 6th and announce the name right here on the blog.   Be well you glorious souls!

- U - 

 

Ancestral Mythology: People of the Horse

Kelly Clark

Long ago, the People knew only peace.  They spoke with all the creatures of the land and sky, they shared their fires and gave thanks after the hunt.   

But then the Men came.  They smelled foreign, nothing like cedar and soil, but like something sharp.  Something bitting.  Knowing only peace, the People invited them to sit by their fires, to partake of their meals.  The Men came willingly, eating ravenously and jostling each other for the warmest seats.  They began to tell stories, of lands far away, of the glittering boxes people lived in and the way they conquered rivers and fields.  The People listened, transfixed, while day after day the Men told them more about this world over the mountains.  Soon they began showing the tools they brought with them, shiny and hard, cold and brilliant.  The men of the People held these tools in their hands and forgot what it was to run the hillsides after deer on sinewy legs and sure feet.  The women were silenced when they spoke of all the wisdom the Moon had gifted them, and soon they too begin to forget what it was to dance naked and hear the songs of the forest.   

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But there was one Girl who kept her distance from the Men.  She was old enough to care for herself, but too young, too small for the Men to bother speaking with.  She spent her days in the council of the trees, practicing the language of the winged and four-legged creatures.  She sat alone on a high hilltop watching as the People began acting more and more like the Men.  They dressed like the Men, spoke like the Men, and the Girl knew it was time.  She crept back into camp under night's dark cover and gathered all the songs, all the dances, all younger children who could still hear the trees.  She lead them up to her hilltop and from there she called Horse.  

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"Horse," she cried, surrounded by the children, "my kindred and I need your help, we need your swift hooves, your strength and your courage.  We have the precious secrets of the People and we can not make the journey ahead alone."   

Horse galloped up the hillside, followed by his band. "We will help you," he replied, "for the People and the Horses have always treated each other with respect, have always sought to aid the other that lives ripple brightly and grow strong.  But we too have been watching the Men, and we too have seen that the earth is changing.  The Men do not speak our language, they do not see us as brethren, and so we too need the help of those who remember."  

The Girl listened and thought.  From the great sack she had filled with all the songs and dances, she drew two long feathers, tying one into the mane of Horse, and one into her own loose locks.  She called the other children and bade them each take two feathers, one for their own hair, and one for the mane of the horse who would carry them.  She turned to Horse and spoke.  "Now we share this bond, seen by all the heavens.  Now whenever the People see a horse with a mane that flies like wings, whenever the Horses see a person with flight in their hair, we shall know that we are kin.  We shall respect and hear the other, we shall remember this day we shared, our cries for help and our vows of aid.  These feathers will pass back to the earth, but this bond will remain in the very blood that passes down through our children's children.  And all those People with our blood will know the language of the Horse in their bones.  No matter how the earth shifts and turns, how the landscape changes and the creatures morph, no matter the words forgotten by tongue and time, this will remain because it resides within our very marrow."

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With that Horse nodded deeply, and the Girl climbed astride. 

And that dear child, is how we became a People of the Horse. 

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Ancestral Mythology Vol 2: People of the Owl

Kelly Clark

This is a story of our great grandmothers, of the days when the women still had feathers running down their spines, before we tucked them up below our shoulders blades and slept through the moonlight.

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Not many remember this today, but there was a time when the Moon and her twin sister walked among the people.  The Moon showed the women the dark secret of the earth, when to plant, where to gather, how to sing the oysters up from the depths.  She would gather them to her each month, showing them how to dance the wildness into their souls and how blood beget life.  The Moon loved the People dearly, always returning after the day, after the sun, every night without fail.  

But the Moon's sister became jealous.  She was as fair skinned as the Moon, as silvery haired, she knew the ancient dances, she knew the secrets to life.  But she cared little for the People, and so the People stepped cautiously around her with averted eyes.  Her jealousy consumed her.  While the Moon slept and the Sun distracted the People with his dazzling presence, the Moon's sister crafted a plan.  She wrapped her sleeping sister in a black bear skin, tied tight with leather thongs, and threw her into the sky.  When evening fell, the darkness was complete.  The Moon was hidden from the People and they shivered in the blackness.

"Where is our sister?  Where is our mother-Moon? " the People cried in a panic.  They called out to the eagles, to the crows, to the sparrows, "Someone help!  The Moon has been stolen away!"  The eagles, the crows and the sparrows awoke and flapped out of their nests, but the darkness was complete and they stumbled without sight.  The People called to the bison, the bobcats, and the mule deer, "Help us, help us!"  But without even a glimmer of light, they were lost in the forest.  Finally the People called out, "Owl, Owl, help us find the Moon."

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Now Owl was known as the seer, for Owl's eyesight was keener than any other living being.  She rolled her head side to side, from earth to sky, and caught the faintest twinkle high above the clouds.  She spread her great wings and flew, up and up, until the air was thin.  She flew until the earth pulled back below her and disappeared in the gloom of night.   She flew until she reached the bear skin hanging in the sky, and with her sharp small beak, she clipped right through the leather thongs.  The cloak fell away from the Moon and the earth was once again illuminated with her glow.  Owl tried to carry the Moon back to the earth, but the Moon knew her time to walk among the People had passed.

She kissed Owl on the forehead, and immediately the brown feathers turned bright white, and the sign of love ringed her face.  "Send my sister to me," commanded the Moon, "for though her heart is dark, she is still my kin and she shall live with me in the sky.  Return to the People, show them your face and they will see me in it.  Tell them to remember the truths I have shown them."

And Owl did everything just as the Moon said.  Now, every month, the Moon dances with her sister across the night sky, swinging each other around through light and darkness that neither outshine the other. 

And that dear children, is how we became a People of the Owl. 

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Ancestral Mythology: People of the Owl

(sterling silver, kyanite, larimar, and aquamarine) 

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