blog description

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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Companionable Dead

I’ve spent a lot of my life fixating upon dead heroes, which means, as we turn into October, I’m entering my favorite other-worldly season.  (Maybe “hero” isn’t quite the word, but “famous historical personalities” is unwieldy.)  Richard III came into my life early, just pre-teen, via a discarded paperback, “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey, fished from a wastebasket in the lounge of a 1950’s Barbados hotel.  For some reason, this mystery story about a man whose chosen motto was “Loyalty Binds Me” and whose reputation had been unjustly blackened, started an obsessive fire in my brain which is, even 50 some years later, burning hotter than ever.   

Richard started life in 1452, which is a long time ago—560 years at Fotheringhay Castle now nothing more than a heap of earth where the original motte and bailey stood.
As you can see from the picture, 500+ years without a caretaker doesn’t leave much behind! Richard Plantagenet was born on October 2, which makes him a Libra. If the Tudor spin doctors are to be believed, he was a seriously out of balance child of this supremely balanced heavenly sign. If the skeleton just recovered proves to be that of the King, it appears he did have a deformity, scoliosis, which would have caused one shoulder to be carried high.  He only lived thirty-two years, but he (or his evil shadow) has left quite a mark on World Consciousness via Shakespeare’s popular blood-and-thunder melodrama.

This blog is not about King Richard, though. It’s about time, of which we humans don’t get a large slice. (I’ve been flailing around more than twice as long as this particular dead hero but have made not a jot of difference to the greater world.)  Still, King Richard, his fair wife, Anne Neville, and others of that bloody late medieval cousinage have been wandering about, arguing, loving and fighting in the theater of my consciousness since childhood.
When the excavation in that Leicester car park came up with a skeleton--scoliosis, battle wounds, and all—it restarted the whole royal parade, complete with banners and drums, inside my mind.   More than that, images of the past come bleeding out, a moving picture of antique glory superimposed upon the ordinariness of daily life. I feel closer to these semi-imaginary dead than I do to my neighbors. After all, these haunted royal shadows have been the constant companions of my chronically uprooted life, from tropical beaches to Cornish cliffs and all the way to this present slough of suburban senior despond. I wonder if, when I'm old and losing what's left of mind, those companionable ghosts will stand by my bed, extend their hands to me.

Juliet Waldron

Coming soon from Second Wind Publishing:  Roan Rose

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Two Hunters

He wants to bring down the stag,

Unaware it’s meant to live.

females are expendable;

young males must live to propagate.


He flings it bleating into a bag

Eyes rolling, tongue askew --


‘it screams like a doe,’ he sneers,

with words that sound right in his ear.

But all his hunting is on video --

he doesn’t know.


I know a man who hunts,

Tracks triangular footprints through sere autumnal fields

Shotgun on shoulder, knife in hand

Taking life as dispassionately as god.


I’m not allowed to hunt by his side,

To steady throbbing neck

for knife’s cold kiss,

To inhale fog, burn landscape on my retina,

Seep cold into my bones,

Watch his broadshouldered back stalk life,

Because he doesn’t want me.


So I unwrap the bag and watch

As he unfolds himself, bolts free.


And now I wait at home,

Brew bitter soups of wormwood, comfrey and rue,

Soothe the fears of old and young

And huddle into winter,

Dreaming of dandelion greens, rose hips,

And blood glittering on grass like a benediction.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Canyon de Chelly

In researching my books for The Dreaming series, I have often been found following the paths of the Virginia Algonquian-speaking Indian tribes. Even though the Anasazi aren't in any of my books, on a recent trip to Arizona, I followed a similar trek because of my mission for studying the Native people. Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning "Ancient Ones." They were the ancestors of the modern day Hopi and Pueblo tribes. The highlight of my trip was a visit to Canyon de Chelly, which is located in the middle of the Navajo Reservation.

Roads wind along the rim of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d'Shay) and nearby Canyon del Muerto. Overlooks provide stop offs to view the canyons and ancient pueblo ruins. Most of the trails are off limits unless one is accompanied by a park ranger or an authorized Navajo guide. One exception to this rule is the White House Ruin trail.

The trail is an improved Anasazi path from the rim that weaves down over 600 feet into the canyon. Part of the trail goes over and around sheer rock with magnificent views, and there are a couple of rock tunnels that give brief relief from the intense sun. Because the return trip uses the same path, it's important to bring water.

At the bottom of the canyon are two cliff dwellings. As with similar historic sites, at one time the ruins were left in the open, but too many tourists decided to take souvenirs, spoiling a hands on view for the rest of us. As a result, the ruins are now fenced off.

The dwellings date to approximately 1200 AD, and the Anasazi reached the upper cliff area with ladders on the roofs from the lower dwellings. Petroglyphs can also be seen. The Anasazi first began growing crops in the canyons about 2500 years ago. Unlike the Navajo farmers of today, the Anasazi didn't have horses or sheep because these domesticated animals, except for dogs and turkeys, were brought by the Spanish. Dogs were kept as guardians, pets, and to pull heavy loads. Turkeys were mainly kept as a source of feathers and as pets. They were also excellent for keeping bugs out of the gardens.

No one really knows why the Anasazi moved from the area, but tree ring dating suggests there was a prolonged drought. Today, tourists can remain in awe of the wondrous dwellings these people built. If I have a chance to go again, I'd love to take a tour from a Navajo guide. Not only would I learn about a more direct account of the Anasazi, including closeup views of other dwellings, but I would hear about the struggles of the Navajo too.

Kim Murphy

Friday, September 7, 2012


We had some good news here yesterday. A deep cool rain brought some hope of survival for parched ground and shriveled plants.
I was given a date for my surgery…
We've been praying for rain-relief after a long dry summer that has turned the fields to blowing dust, and the green lawns into harsh brown mats. The river is lower than it's been for years; revealing rocks rounded as old bones. The geese march across mysterious patterns set in concrete mud. Their hunger overrides their customary caution.
I was given a date for my surgery…
 The trees have been dropping leaves for weeks in a foretaste of the autumn losses. The Mountain Ash we planted a few years ago looks like it won't survive despite weekly watering. Even the cedars, deep rooted in maturity are looking rather haggard.
I was given a date for my surgery…
The days are getting shorter. Conversely the fearful restless nights are even longer. Morning pills are taken now in darkness while waiting for the slow easing of the gloom. With the dawn the thousand contentious sparrows that live in our hedges emerge to share their stories. Do they ever think of winter coming, stone cold ice and snow? … And after that, spring's resurrections?