Tunes for a Monday Morning

I don't know about you, but the world is seeming particularly crazy to me right now, and I need a dose of hope, courage, and inspiration this morning....

"To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on your futures, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk."  - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

Above: "Rise Up" by Andra Day (based in San Diego, California), from her album Cheers to the Fall (2015). The gorgeous video was directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Below: "Glory" by John Legend and Common, who wrote the song for the the civil rights film Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay.

"But hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises. Or perhaps studying the record more carefully leads us to expect miracles -- not when and where we expect them, but to expect to be astonished, to expect that we don't know. And this is grounds to act."   - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

Above: "Love Letters to God" by Nahko Bear (of Apache/Mowhawk/Filipino/Puerto Rican heritage), from his album Hoka (2016). The video was filmed in support of the water protectors at Standing Rock in the Dakotas.

Below: "Almost Like Praying" by composer & playright Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Hamilton), with Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Gloria Estefan, Fat Joe, Luis Fonsi, Jenifer Lopez, Rita Moreno and many others -- a track created as a fundraiser for recovery efforts in storm-shattered Puerto Rico.

Miranda's lyrics begin with a line from "Maria" (his favorite song from West Side Story), then weave in the names of the towns on the island -- evoking the spirit of place, the strength of community, and a sense of hope in the darkest of times. "For Puerto Ricans who live all over the world who have a connection and family on the island," he explains, "there was a terrible silence for several days where we were just waiting for word. And my Twitter feed, my Facebook feed, were just filled with family members listing the names of towns where their families were living. 'And from my grandmothers in Lares, my uncle is in Vega Alta -- has anyone seen them? Has anyone heard from them?' And I thought, well the only lyric that really unites us and that makes the most sense for a fundraising song is if I can somehow write a song that includes all 78 towns in Puerto Rico so that no one feels left out and no one's town feels forgotten."

You can buy the song here, or donate directly to the Hispanic Federation here.

"Joy doesn't betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection."  - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

Below: "Level Up" by pianist & songwriter Vienna Teng (who is based in Detroit). The video was directed Lawrence Chen, choreographed by Jaclyn Walsh, and features the dancer Tommy Guns Ly, among others. "If you're afraid, give more; if you're alive, give more," Teng tells us in this moving and joyful song...which circles us back to Andra Day's words above: "All we need is hope; and for that we have each other."

"Inside the word 'emergency' is 'emerge'; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters."  - Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark)

newborn muntjac deer


The Longest Night

The title of this magical animation by paper cut artist Angie Pickman refers to the winter solstice, but it's also symbolic of other "long nights" we face in life: a mental or physical health crisis...a period of grief, hardship, or trauma...or the week leading to a troubling transition of power in Washington DC.

"We are always on a journey from darkness into light," the Irish poet/philosopher John O'Donohue reminds us. "At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother's womb. You lived the first nine months in there. Your birth was the first journey from darkness into light. All your life, your mind lives within the darkness of your body. Every thought you have is a flint moment, a spark of light from your inner darkness. The miracle of thought is its presence in the night side of your soul; the brilliance of thought is born of darkness. Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover the balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm."

Copyright by Karen Davis

In the mythic sense, we practice moving from darkness into light every morning of our lives. The task now is make that movement larger, to join together to carry the entire world through the long night to the dawn.

Stray by Jeanie Tomanek

Capturing the Moon by Jeanie Tomanek

The art above is"The Spirit Within" by Karen Davis (UK); "Stray" and "Capturing the Moon" by Jeanie Tomanek (US). The video is by Angie Pickman (US); go here to see more of her work. The quote is from Anam Cara (Bantam Books, 1997) by John O'Donhue (1956-2008, Ireland). All right to the video and art above are reserved by the artists; all rights to O'Donohue's text are reserved by his estate.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Awake  Awake by Marry Waterson

Today, music from four different counties, illustrated or animated in four different ways....

Above, a charming video with paper cut art and simple animation by Marry Waterson, an artist & musician from the famous Waterson family of folk musicians in Yorkshire. The song is "Awake, Awake," performed by Cumbrian folksinger Maz O'Connor on her debut album, This Willowed Light -- which makes Waterson's use of William Morris' "Willow" design in the video rather clever. "Awake, Awake" is a traditional folk song also known as "The Drowsy Sleeper" and "The Silver Dagger." There's another fine version of it sung acappella on the Full English album, which I also highly recommend.

Below, a touching video by graphic artist & filmmaker Monkmus, from Los Angeles, for "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" by the American indie band Death Cab for Cutie, from Bellingham, Washington. I love the story (life-affirming and heart-breaking all at once), and the whole notebook/sketchbook theme.

Below, a thoroughly delightful stop-motion animation by artist Sydney Smith & filmmaker Jason Levangie, both based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The song is "Horska," exuberantly performed by the Gypsy jazz band Gypsophilia, also from Halifax. It's Smith & Levangie's second collaboration with the band; the first was "Agricola & Sarah" in 2009.

And to end with, a lovely little piece of black-and-white animation by Esteban Diácono, who comes from Córdoba, Argentina, and is now based in Buenos Aires. The music is "Slowly, Slowly Comes the Light" by Ólafur Arnalds, from Mosfellsbær, Iceland.

This one, so simple and yet so beautiful, just lifts my heart.


The Blessing of Otters

Kickapoo by Rebecca Tobey

One of the mythic borderlands I'm especially drawn to (as evidenced by my writing and art over the decades) is the place where humans and animals meet: as neighbors, as cousins who speak each other's language, as shape-shifters in each other's skins.

"Long ago the trees thought they were people," says Tulalip storyteller Johnny Moses, recounting a traditional Native America tale. "Long ago the mountains thought they were people. Long ago the animals thought they were people. Someday they will say, 'long ago the humans thought they were people.' "

River Shaman by Rebecca TobeyIn "Voyageur," a gorgeous essay by Scott Russell Sanders, the writer and his daughter watch otters during a camping trip in the geographic borderlands between Minnesota and Ontario. What was it that kept him riveted to the spot, watching the animals with such intense fascination? What did the otters mean to him, and what did he want from them?

Not their hides, not their meat, not even a photograph, says Saunders, "although I found them surpassingly beautiful. I wanted their company. I desired their instruction -- as if, by watching them, I might learn to belong somewhere as they so thoroughly belonged here. I yearned to slip out of my skin and into theirs, to feel the world for a spell through their senses, to think otter thoughts, and then to slide back into myself, a bit wiser for the journey.

"In tales of shamans the world over, men and women make just such leaps, into hawks or snakes or bears, and then back into human shape, their vision enlarged, their sympathy deepened. I am a poor sort of shaman. My shape never changes, except, year by year, to wrinkle and sag. I did not become an otter, Messenger of the Gods by Gene & Rebecca Tobeyeven for an instant. But the yearning to leap across the distance, the reaching out in imagination to a fellow creature, seems to me a worthy impulse, perhaps the most encouraging and distinctive one we have. It is the same impulse that moves us to reach out to one another across differences of race or gender, age or class. What I desired from the otters was also what I most wanted from my daughter and from the friends with whom we were canoeing, and it is what I have always desired from neighbors and strangers. I wanted their blessing. I wanted to dwell alongside them with understanding and grace. I wanted them to go about their lives in my presence as though I were kin to them, no matter how much I might differ from them outwardly."

Hawkeye by Rebecca Tobey

Later in essay, Sanders writes about two loons who wake him in the middle of the night, "wailing back and forth like two blues singers demented by love," and the bald eagle who watches their progress down the river from its perch on a dead tree's branch. What did the eagle see, he wonders?

"Not food, surely, and not much of a threat, or it would have flown. Did it see us as fellow creatures? Or merely as drifting shapes, no more consequential than clouds? Exchanging Dancing With the Wind by Gene & Rebecca Tobeystares with this great bird, I dimly recalled a passage from Walden that I would look up after my return to the company of books: 'What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment! Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?'

"Neuroscience may one day pull off that miracle," Sanders continues, "giving us access to other eyes, other minds. For the present, however, we must rely on our native sight, on patient observation, on hunches and empathy. By empathy, I do not mean the projecting of human films onto nature's screens, turning grizzly bears into teddy bears, crickets into choristers, grass into lawns; I mean the shaman's leap, a going out of oneself into the inwardness of other beings.

"The longing I heard in the cries of the loons was not just a feathered version of mine, but neither was it wholly alien. It is risky to speak of courting birds as blues singers, of diving otters as children taking turns on a slide. But it is even riskier to pretend we have nothing in common with the rest of Big Horn Sheep Shaman by Gene & Rebecca Tobeynature, as though we alone, the chosen species, were centers of feeling and thought. We cannot speak of that common ground without casting threads of metaphor outward from what we know and what we do not know.

"An eagle is other, but it is also alive, bright with sensation, attuned to the world, and we respond to that vitality wherever we find it, in bird or beetle, in moose or lowly moss. Edward O. Wilson has given this impulse a lovely name, biophilia, which he defines as the urge 'to explore and affiliate with life.' Of course, like the coupled dragonflies that skimmed past our canoes or like osprey hunting fish, we seek other creatures for survival. Yet even if biophilia is an evolutionary gift, like the kangaroo's leap or the peacock's tail, our fascination with living things carries us beyond the requirements of eating and mating. In that excess, that free curiosity, there may be a healing power. The urge to explore has scattered humans across the whole earth -- to the peril of many species, including our own; perhaps the other dimension of biophilia, the desire to affiliate with life, could lead us to honor the entire fabric and repair what has been torn."

Hawk Bear & Deer Dancers by Gene & Rebecca Tobey

In the conclusion of his essay, Sanders points out that the fellowship of all creatures "is more than a handsome metaphor. The appetite for discovering such connections is also entwined in our DNA. Science articulates in formal terms affinities that humans have sensed for ages in direct encounters with wildness. Even while we slight or slaughter members of our own species, and while we push other species toward extinction, we slowly, Keeper of the Trust by Gene & Rebecca Tobeypainstakingly acquire knowledge that could enable us and inspire us to change our ways. Only if that knowledge begins to exert a pressure in us, and we come to feel the fellowship of all beings as potently as we feel hunger and fear, will we have any hope of creating a truly just and tolerant society, one that cherishes the land and our wild companions along with our brothers and sisters.

"In America lately, we have been carrying on two parallel conversations: one about respecting human diversity, the other about preserving natural diversity. Unless we merge those conversations, both will be futile. Our efforts to honor human differences cannot succeed apart from our effort to honor the buzzing, blooming, bewildering variety of life of earth. All life rises from the same source, and so does all fellow feeling, whether the fellow moves on two legs or four, on scaly bellies or feathered wings. If we care only for human needs, we betray the land; if we care only for the earth and its wild offspring, we betray our own kind. The profusion of creatures and cultures is the most remarkable fact about our planet, and the study and stewardship of that profusion seems to me our fundamental task."

Bear sculptures by Gene & Rebecca Tobey

The sculptures pictured here are by the New Mexican artists Gene & Rebecca Tobey, who worked for years in a fertile partnership creating scuptures, paintings, and drawings inspired by nature and the mythic symbolism of the North American continent. (The titles of the pieces can be found in the picture captions.) Gene died of leukemia in 2006, but Rebecca carries on their beautiful work. Please visit the Tobey Studios website to see more of their collaborative art, and the Rebecca Tobey website for her current pieces.

The Gift by Gene & Rebecca TobeyThe text quoted today comes from "Voyageurs," an essay in Writing from the Center by Scott Russell Sanders (Indiana University Press, 1997), highly recommended. All rights reserved by the author. 


The dance of joy and grief, part II: a meditation on loss

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

"Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive."  - Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

"All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes."  - Cormac McCarthy (The Road)

"[In The Lord of the Rings,] Frodo's quest is a middle-aged man's quest, to lose something and to give something up, which is what you start to realize in your thirties is going to happen to you. Part of the rest of your life is learning to give things up."  - Ellen Kushner (Locus interview)

"It is Story that heals us, that shapeshifts us, that saves us."  - Sylvia V. Linsteadt

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

 The paintings today are by the great Austrian book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger, for Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina.

The video below is "Thought of You," an animation by Ryan Woodward, with music by The Weepies. I've posted it once before, but that was way back in 2011, and it's worth a re-visit.

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Howard and I discovered the beautiful music of the Crow Puppets last month, when they shared a stage with Howard's band, the Nosey Crows, at aSummer crow by Rima music festival in north Devon.  (There seems to have been a bit of a crow theme that day.) Crow Puppets consists of singer/songwriters Cara Roxanne and Em Marshall, who "first met when they moved into a haunted house by a crumbling castle fringing Dartmoor." Their "homespun folk music" has a mythic and magical bent, and I recommend their new album, Whispering Hills, Tangled Hair. The Crow Puppets are based in Ashburton, Devon, which is just across the moor from Chagford.

Above, Cara Roxanne's animation for their song "Red Ribbons" - a rather cold and wintry song for a mild summer day, but nevermind.  Below, The Crow Puppets perform "Whispering Hills" at last year's Accoustica Festival in Exeter.  The artwork on the left is "Summer Crow" by Rima Staines.

The Crow Puppets' music reminds me a little of another wonderful West Country musician, Martha Tilston, who is based in Cornwall. Her most recent CDs are Lucy and the Wolves and Machines of Love and Grace, but all of her albums are lovely.

Above: Martha and her band perform "More" (a song whose sentiments I agree with wholeheartedly) for Folk Radio UK last autumn.

Below: Martha performs "The Golden Surfer" back in 2006. It's not particularly well filmed, but the song is terrific: an updating of an old English folk ballad to reflect surfer culture on the Cornish coast. (Previous Monday Tunes from Martha are here and here.)

And one last piece today:

The charming video by Martha's brother, Joe Tilston, for his song "Liza and Henry." It comes from Embers (2013) -- another recommended album, influenced both by Joe's punk rock past and his family roots in the English folk scene. (There's an interesting post on the album's art and design by Tim Rickaby here.)


The Dog's Tale

Tilly in Nattadon WoodsThe Dog's Tales are a series of post in which Tilly has her say....

My Person is still dealing with some Big Stuff that even I can't help her with, except to see that she gets properly walked twice a day. So I thought I'd step in and leave a post for her. Here's the quote I've chosen for you, which comes from John Grogan's Marley and Me:

"A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things -- a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

One day at a time, I keep telling my Person. Just one day at a time.

It's a good thing she has me.

"Bubble" by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, animation directed by Elliot Dear @ Blinkink

My Person will be back on Myth & Moor sometime next week...we hope.


Tune for a Monday Morning

Today's tune comes with a "yarn animation" by the BAFTA nominsated writer/director/animator Ainslie Henderson, created for "Moving On" by James, the Britpop band out of Manchester. It's absolutely beautiful...and hard to get through with dry eyes.

"Ainslie’s animation is wonderful, heartfelt, truthful, innocent, and reveals a true storyteller," says James' lead singer, Tim Booth. "As a band we were determined to work with him even if it meant dipping into our own pockets. Animation takes weeks and is painstaking work, for the animator, compared to that of most videos. I remember standing in a back garden in Highbury, mobile burning my ear, as I told him in detail of my mother’s death and that of my friend Gabrielle – the twin inspirations for 'Moving On.' My mother’s death was clearly a birth of some kind and that description caught Ainslie’s imagination.

"Two days later, with perfect timing, his video script came through on my email, as I was having a meeting with our manager Peter, trying to persuade him that we should pay the extra needed to work with Ainslie. I tried reading it to Peter but couldn’t complete it due to tears. Peter read it and welled up. That Ainslie found such a perfect medium to fit our song blows us away."

And Ainslie Henderson says: "My connection with James is a long and evolving one. The first time I heard their music was sitting at a friend’s house, aged 18, stoned and confused. ‘Sometimes’ was playing, I remember feeling something that until then I didn’t know pop music could make you feel. I thought crying was only for when you feel loss or sadness. Pop music, but woven with something sincere and yearning, passionate and beautiful."

Moving On by Ainslie Henderson and James


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today's music is from The Staves, an alt-folk trio of sisters (Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor) from Watford, Hertfordshire. All three songs come from their debut CD, Dead & Born & Grown.

Above: "Winter Trees," with an enchanting video from Aardman Animations in Bristol.

Below: "Mexico," another magical video -- in a dreamlike, Tord Boontje kind of way.

And one more...

Below: a (mostly) a capella song, "Wisely and Slow."