blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, October 28, 2011


This year I made it back to a place I’ve been dreaming about for a decade, Avebury in Wiltshire, UK. There is a vibe, something about the plain and the high rolling downs which draws people in, and whatever that something is, it’s been active since before the Neolithic.  Today there are crop circle and ley line hunters, but this is an ancient holy site. The area contains the remains of Mesolithic “towns” as well as barrows, ditches , dikes and standing stones, all created with antler picks, woven handbaskets and ropes made of hair and plant fiber and human hands over a period which lasted well over two thousand years. On a bright autumnal day, Avebury still draws tourist crowds, although nothing like its neighbor, Stonehenge, standing proudly among its own barrows and earthworks just twenty miles to the south. 
The first time I visited, I was fortunate enough to get a room in the finest B&B in town, in a 17th Century house with a view of the north circle which served a “smashing breakfast.” From there, I planned to walk a single day of 13 miles on the 5,000 year old Ridgeway, to feel the “road goes ever on and on” beneath my feet. I was seriously out of shape, and, although I didn’t know it, on the verge of a life-threatening illness. I didn’t even have a map. Such was my crazy “plan.” I was determined to see it through. 
I had supper at the Red Lion Inn which sits in a crook of the busy highway running straight through the holy place, and went early to bed. Beyond the back fence, visible from my window, was a ditch, a  corresponding dike and a few of the remaining limestone behemoths, part of a once mighty circle.  And as might be expected in such a place of power, I had a dream. In it, one of the big gray stones behind the house slipped its moorings and came through the garden to stare through the window at me. It was a cold, old presence, terrifyingly “Other,” like something out of H.P. Lovecraft, but it was oddly disinterested, too. I was a bug, perceived through the prism of time.
I saw the stone. The Stone saw me.
I sat bolt upright, rigid with fear, every hair on end, but of course, nothing was  there.   Outside my window was dripping dawn and an October fog which would soon become rain, providing this foolish pilgrim with the requisite ordeal.  Later, as I climbed the green Herepath, the ancient trail which leads up a side-aching escarpment to the Ridgeway, I turned and looked back toward the magical remains of  avenues and circles. I still wanted the adventure, the ordeal of the long walk on already bruised and inadequately shod feet, but such a feeling of sorrow as I gazed down upon the ruined sanctuary! I knew, beyond a doubt, that someday I would make a dedicated journey, spend whole days walking with the ancestors among those charged, still wide-awake,  stones.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Keats's Autumn

At least one Romantic may have found a rare appreciation for the Mother in Mother Nature. In Keats's poem "To Autumn," he personifies the season as a matured friend of the sun. The imagery, scents, and sounds of Autumn are o'er-brimmed by Summer and pour from Keats's pen in sensitive and intimately familiar words. Autumn is careless, drowsy, and patient. Autumn loads vines, plumps gourds, and pauses mid-harvest to spare flowers still budding for the bees. Certainly the Seasons were traditionally given female identities, but Keats never names his Autumn's gender. Instead he introduces a force of nature, and allows the reader to fill in the picture. I'm pretty sure Autumn is a woman - a rosy, mellow, beautiful woman; I feel certain Keats agrees.

47. To Autumn

EASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats (1795–1821). The Poetical Works of John Keats. 1884.; 25 October 2011.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chutzpah by Lari Jo Walker

Chutzpah – or “You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing, but what you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.” - Alan Alda

Climbing the tree was the easy part. The hard part was not allowing herself to stop and sample the fruit. The aroma was stronger here than in the shaded lawn below, but not unpleasant. In fact the scents of apples and peaches mingled seamlessly into an essence all their own. Three months earlier it had been cherries, which blended in with the pears toward the end of their season. She had marveled at this tree for the last twenty years but never had the chutzpah to climb it.

Chutzpah. She was thinking of words like that. Had she said it out loud? Her day was becoming as remarkable as the tree.

Obviously it had been grafted, several times if the variety of fruits the tree bore was any indication. She had never heard of such a thing. Nor had she considered it unnatural during the many years she had lived in the house at the edge of this grove. Or copse? If a tree had chutzpah, would it live in a grove, a copse, or a woods? These thoughts were really becoming annoying. She concentrated on pulling herself up to the next branch.

She had watched the tree grow and flower, drop petals, fruit, and leaves in a perpetual cycle for these many years. A part of her had always loved the tree. When she looked at its outline in whatever season, she always thought, “That is the perfect tree.” Especially in winter. Its branches rose gracefully, in perfect balance with each other. She had often thought about drawing the tree during winter, the way the art teacher had taught her in fourth grade. Starting at the roots, you drew a tree the way it grew – from under the ground up to its branches, the many branches forming a thicker trunk with each line. One line of the living tree had a beautiful curve where it forked away from the trunk. It occurred to her that she had been watching this tree from the bedroom window in her house at the edge of the woods for so long that she knew it as well as her hand – each swollen knuckle and age spot. The image of the tree blended seamlessly into the history of her life in this place.

She paused to get her bearings. It seemed she had been climbing for hours, but that couldn’t be true. She moved a small branch aside to try and see how far she was from the ground. But the leaves were so thick she could see neither up nor down through the breathing green around her, broken sporadically by a red apple or glowing peach. It was so relaxing to be here, with no sense of in or out, East or West, come or go. She knew only that she was above the earth and below the sky, feeling her hands and the soles of her feet meet and nearly embrace (if they could not encircle) the living bark of the tree. And suddenly she was aware of the house. The tree house she had glimpsed from her house just this year.

The house had been her goal at the start of her climb, but she had become so enthralled by the fruit and then her thoughts that she had almost forgotten about it. Now that she was here, she remembered why she had come – or climbed. She knew that the house was nearly at the top of the tree, so she must be at least 40 feet in the air.

“Thirty-seven, actually.” A face appeared at the window of the house. “Thirty-seven feet, dear. Very tall for a fruit tree, don’t you think?”

She jumped a bit, and one foot slipped from the branch she was resting her feet on. She had already sat down – or against – one of the larger branches, thank God. She might have fallen, otherwise.

“ Oh, so sorry I startled you. I was sure you knew I was here, or why climb this tree? The fruit is lovely, but it does fall when it’s ripe – so climbing is truly unnecessary. I expected you wanted to have a visit, meet the new neighbor type thing.”

“Yes. Yes, I believe I did want to see who was here – who built this house. It’s been such a strange day I had forgotten that was what I was doing. I do that a lot lately. So, this is your tree-house, is it?”

“Tree, house, words are such malleable creatures. The two ideas seem as unlikely a combination as winter and branches, but they blend - seamlessly in this case – to form a new idea altogether. Have you noticed that about words?”

“Yes. Yes, in fact, I had noticed again, lately. I used to play with words nearly all the time. But I hadn’t thought about it at all until recently.” She suddenly realized she had been thinking about writing again, although she couldn’t say when or how she thought of it at all. That, and she had just said “yes” more times in a minute than she had in a year.

“Well,” her strange new neighbor said, “writing takes chutzpah, you know. I think you may be finding you have more chutzpah than you ever imagined.”

“Yes,” she replied, “I do believe I have chutzpah. And I may have learned it from this tree!” And then she realized that what she had said sounded absurd, but she didn’t mind that at all. And she was smiling.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My favorite Autumn and Crone images

In no particular order . . . my favorite Autumn and/or Crone images for the season.
(With apologies for being so late with my posting. Been swamped with a new job!)

Have loved these Welsh ladies from the first time I spotted them on a postcard and shared them with my "goilfriends." Did some reading into the history of their hats (wonder if they ever had a clue they looked like witches in them?!) and learned that they first appeared in the 1830s and were likely adapted from men's hats of the period.

I stumbled across this image when I started researching "Crones" in art. At the same time I found this, I read that grandmothers were usually the designated storytellers. This painting by the French artist Louis-Leopold Boilly is entitled "and the Ogre ate him up!" (early 19th c.)
Love the expressions on the faces of the children!

John Everett Millais' "Autumn Leaves" (1856).

Fall, leaves, fall

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Source: Poets of the English Language (Viking Press, 1950)


Sunday, October 2, 2011

This isn't your mother's menopause

Maybe I've always had too much testosterone to go gently into menopause by nagging for grandchildren, puttering in the garden and waxing nostalgic over crap that happened 30 years ago. My menopause feels more like a certain type of man's -- not the guys who go all soft and contemplative in their dotage, but the stereotypical silver fox in the Ferrari he can finally afford, cruising sweet young 40-somethings at the upscale bar. Ouch; yes, I'm that guy.

I went through a mopey period. Ten years of a mopey period, to be exact. My weight ballooned. Everything ached. I could only find a special occasion dress in the fat woman's department at Nordstrom's. I'd stand in front of my kitchen window and watch people jogging, biking, being alive, and think, "Gee, that used to feel good. That used to be fun. I can't believe I used to do that." Then I'd waddle back into the family room with a bag of chips and watch more television. It didn't matter. I was old; old people are supposed to act this way. On days when the estrogen was especially volatile, I would shift into manic phase by yelling and throwing things. I was like Liz Taylor in her later days, only without the bling--so actually like Liz Taylor as Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," only without the sex.

The wakeup call for me was seeing the pictures from my best friend's daughter's wedding. Even fully made up and dressed to the nines, I didn't just look old, I looked dead. Well, yes, I may be old, but I'm not dead yet.

So over the past year I stopped dyeing my hair, lost 40 pounds and rediscovered physical activity -- biking, skating, jogging, kickboxing and recreational sex. I'm successfully passing for 10 years younger than I actually am, and yes, I fully intend to continue the deception for as long as I can get away with it (harder than you think; when I say I remember the '80s, I have to foster the illusion that I remember them as a high school student, not as someone who actually voted for Michael Dukakis, even though I have the campaign buttons to prove it).

In one way I guess I can say I'm rediscovering the essential self that got set aside--physically when the procreative imperative took over at puberty, and mentally/emotionally after I became a mother. In another, deeper way, however, I'm morphing into the woman I was meant to be all along -- the woman that isn't fettered by the fears, insecurities and self-consciousness that go along with being young. I'm too damn old to give a fuck what people think of me. And that's a healthy attitude for any age.
Has all this second-adolescence activity made me a less contemplative, more shallow person? Perhaps. But since I already went through old age during my real adolesence (oh so much bitter reading of Herman Hesse, writing bad poetry and simultaneously mocking and envying my popular classmates!), it seems to be balancing out perfectly.

As far as being a wise crone dispensing sage advice, unless I can look and act like Maria Ouspenskya counseling Lon Chaney, I'm not interested. Yes, you can ask me for advice, but my responses are less likely to sound like the Dalai Lama and more like Coach Mike Ditka: get off the cross, man up, and tighten up that offensive line. (That's another weird thing about menopause: Along with the relentless hot flashes, in the last year I've also developed and taste for an an understanding of football.) And of course, the ever-popular, "You need to get laid."
Heck, it worked for me.