Portals Featured Artist: Sonja Drakulich

Sonja Drakulich of Stellamara

This beautiful woman is Sonja Drakulich. She is one of my all time favorite singers; one of the best vocalists currently on the planet, as far as I am concerned. Her voice is pure and controlled, yet deeply evocative, able to elicit emotion with a command that few possess. I hold her in the the same regard as Lisa Gerrard or Loreena McKennitt.

And I’m not the only one. She is the most successful of the musicians we know, recently completing a lengthy stint touring with Faun. She is the only one of our musician friends who has performed in stadiums. As such, she has become somewhat of a folk heroine to those of us on the circuit.

The recognition she has gotten is well deserved. Aside from a rich talent and a stage presence that seems effortless, she is an incredibly nice person. You would expect someone like Sonja to be a diva, but she is remarkably down to earth and open. And she is supportive of other artists in a way that makes her the perfect Portals candidate.

Winter and I met Sonja through her musical collaborator, Gari Hegedus. Gari answered an ad on Craig’s List for Pandemonaeon, and joined us for many years. He plays more instruments than I can count, and has been instrumental in developing Pandemonaeon’s sound. He is an outstanding musician and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he makes an appearance on Portals.

I don’t know what else I can say about Sonja that would be more powerful that just introducing you to her music. So without further ado, I link you to Stellamara’s most recent release on Bandcamp. You can stream the entire album and if you don’t fall in love with Sonja by the second song, I may believe you heart has turned to stone.

Suffice to say, Sonja, SJ Tucker, and I singing three part harmonies on Melusina = dream come true.

Also, here she is with Faun:  That is her singing lead!

You can learn more about Sonja here:

http://stellamara.com

RESERVE YOUR COPY OF PORTALS TODAY!

http://www.sharonknightportals.net

Portals Featured Artist: SJ Tucker

SJ Tucker. Photo by Earth to Steve.

This is the first in a series I will be writing on the artists we are featuring in the Portals Project. This is the essence of Portals; to strengthen our vibrant artists’ community by shining a light on one another’s talents. Throughout the campaign, I will introduce a Portals artist here and share a bit about why I love them. Starting with SJ Tucker!

SJ Tucker is a pint sized package of pixie-pirate awesomeness, with a heart of gold and a voice of pure magic. She is also a consummate show woman, with probably the best command of the stage I have ever seen. She is incredibly kind and open hearted, but also fierce as a lion.

I first met SJ at the Heartland Festival in Kansas 10 or 11 years ago. She was a wee wisp of a girl back then, and as we sat around the campfire, she announced to what was clearly a community she knew and loved that she was going to go for it; that September she was going to quit her job and try her hand as a full time musician. At the time, I was coming off “The Warner Brothers incident” and remember thinking to myself “Good luck with that, I hope it works out for you”, not feeling at all confident that making a living in music was even possible.

I think we can safely say, it has worked out for her!

She is one of the most well-loved performers in all the mythic-magic tour circuits we play, and for good reason. Her songs are filled with charm and whimsy. Her lyrics are clever and imaginative, weaving poetry and humor as she parts the veils to reveal fantastical worlds within. Her voice is honey and yearning, and her command of her instruments is masterful. Her stage presence is larger than life and utterly captivating. These things combined have won her a large and loyal following. I hope you get a chance to see her completely own the Neverworlds Stage at Faerieworlds! She and Tricky Pixie (all of whom are featured in Portals) do a great job on the main stage too, of course, but it’s as though the Neverworlds Stage was made just for her.

As Winter likes to say, SJ Tucker is a force of nature.

On a more personal note, she’s got a special place in my heart because she visited me in dream about 6 years ago, one of those vivid dreams that you wake from trembling, with the word “woah!” on your lips. In the dream she floated up out of nowhere and said, “You know, you really should be doing this”. Shortly thereafter, she showed up at Pantheacon, and asked me if I would play at her Strowler events. In many ways, I credit her with giving me the boost I needed to give music another try. And I am pleased to say, it is working out for me, as well!

To celebrate this dynamo, here is a sampling of some of my favorites of her work:

“Neptune”, from her Mischief album

A personal favorite, dark and haunting:

Showcasing her clever wit:

And her newest:

We are featuring SJ Tucker in Portals because we are sure you will love her as much as we do, and we know without a doubt that bringing her into the mix will help make a good project great!

 Learn more about SJ Tucker here!

Learn more about the Portals Project here!

Today is my Father’s Death Day

Today is the fourth anniversary of my Father’s death. I still miss him terribly. And yet, there has been a strange sort of healing that has happened, that wasn’t possible in life. Writing about it helps. So I wrote this:

Dad.

When the light went out of you, I thought I had lost you forever. All chance of salvaging our forsaken years blinked out in an instant, buried evermore in a tomb of missed communion.

A life expiring on a bed of regrets, moments of joy wished for but never brought to fruition. When your candle extinguished, so did all hope of shared secrets, belly laughs, spiced cider, and delicious smells coming from a warm kitchen. Apologies, rites of passage, tender knowing eye twinkles, all lost. The hope of what could be now firmly enshrined in what might have been, a museum piece resting on a scratchy pillow, encased in glass with the great oak doors closing on it forever. A living, beating heart now consigned to the dusty relics of antiquity, with nothing but regret lingering in the stale air.

My heart squeezed shut and oozed black, pooling over the bright places and blotting out all visions of renewal.

I walked away, empty.

But gradually your voice came to me. Free now, of the constraints of the flesh. Free of the miles between us, free of the jealousies of covetous new wives. Free of your duties, your vanity and wounded pride, that convinced you that holding a grudge was worth your life.

I began to speak to you. And now your voice held a shining spark, as if your breath had wings. As if a great chain had been unshackled. We spoke of love not shared, but nonetheless cherished. We spoke of pride in one another. We forgave. We released each other’s bonds. We saw that there was a way forward.

At first I told myself it was a trick of the mind. Some pale therapists’s exercise to balm over what can never be regained. Some sort of feigned, forced attempt at healing. Make-beleive to make one feel better.

And yet. Can I be so sure that your empty husk was the end of you? Has life not demonstrated itself to be grand so far beyond our imaginings that we can scare comprehend it, over and over again? I feel you all around me when we talk. Palpable. Can I be so sure that you are not also benefitting from this newfound communion?

Can there be a kind of freedom in death, and not merely the snuffing-out endgame that we have come to believe is the only truth there can be for sensible people?  When the measuring of brain chemistry is our only yardstick, what do we miss? We civilized people, we are so pleased with ourselves and our inventions, our science and dishwashers and self cleaning ovens. Truly, we have accomplished mighty things. We have conquered much disease. We have put a man on the moon. We have also nearly destroyed our world. Perhaps our civilized wisdom is not the only wisdom. Perhaps we have not figured everything out with our measuring devices and our microscopes.

For I feel you now, Dad. I feel you and there is a great relief about you. That we can talk again in private. That we can resume a friendship we both wish we’d never lost. And I am reminded of that other wisdom, stories told by people as old as time. Stories told in song and not in lab results. Stories of the Dreamtime, that great sea of consciousness that we all dip in and out of. And the part of us that is most alive, even after the mechanics of our bodies cease, drifts as a mist into this sea and mingles with all things.

In this place, I can touch you.

I weep.  Tears of sadness and joy. Tears of loss and renewal.

But mostly tears of wonder.

We are the Light Returning

Winter Solstice is upon us, and with it, themes of the returning light, of the glimmer of hope endured after hardship, and the general goodwill of humankind. I have always loved this time of year, and associate it with Return of the King-type sentiments. An epic journey completed, with the fruits of a long struggle at last beginning to shine through the darkness.

Of course, for us in California, this is kind of a joke. By the time we reach Winter Solstice, our epic journey through the darkness has been going on for all of 6 weeks. Oh the horror! The rain has barely gotten started by Solstice, if we get any at all.

For this California girl, the Return of the Sun is something felt more as an internal process than as something that ties me to nature. It has always been more about the bleakness in the human soul, and the hope of return to a better life. This internal bleakness, I am sorry to say, is something we have a plentiful supply of.

My world has been seeming mighty bleak of late. I don’t know if events of the world are worse than usual or if it is just easier than ever to access a wide variety of news. Whatever the case, the human struggle has been hitting me pretty hard these past several weeks.

The woes of the world touch us all at different times, and different events trigger different people. Regardless of the what or when, we all know this feeling of bleakness, when it seems that no light touches us, but only a never-ending, grinding cruelty.

A cruelty that threatens to overwhelm us.

Many times over the last year, I have seen people plaintively express feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and overwhelm. They want to do some good in the world, but they don’t know where to begin. They don’t know how they can possibly make a difference when so much is going wrong all at once. Or they feel crushed under the weight of their own burdens, with scarcely enough money or time to handle the immediacy of their own lives.

I have felt this way myself, many times, and recently.

What helps me through my own periods of hopelessness is to take action. Even a small action. It doesn’t have to be some epic “Save the word in one fell swoop” action. Just a little something. The act of taking one small step toward the world you want to live in has the power to move incredible amounts of energy. Energy that will shift the paralysis of overwhelm.

Too often we think our gestures have to be grand, or they are worthless. By judging what we can do as “Not enough”, we shame ourselves into doing nothing. In our frozenness, we shut down and close out the world. And thus, we cut ourselves off from a sense of connection to and belonging in the world.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

This little saying has helped me immensely. We don’t have to build a non-profit from scratch. We can donate $10 to one. We can volunteer one day a month. Even if we have neither time nor money, we can devote an hour a week to learning about a situation that troubles us. Education is often the first step in figuring out how to be part of a solution.

How do we pick something, in a sea of troubles so numerous that the very thought of narrowing them down triggers overwhelm?

I always start with this question:

What is breaking my heart?

Usually one thing will flood to the surface above the others. Take the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t second guess it. It may not be “The One True Thing Forever and Ever”. It doesn’t need to be. You can support another thing down the road.

Hell, you can write different things down on paper and draw one out of a hat. It doesn’t matter what you pick, only that you pick, and then take a small action in support of that choice. Whatever you pick, I guarantee you will feel so much better investing a part of yourself into its healing.

Once I have chosen something, I look for organizations local to me that I can donate to or work with. Keeping it local makes the most sense for me, because that is the community I am invested in. (My pick for year’s end donations this year is Planting Justice, an organization that combines several of my interests at once into their mission. Check ’em out!).

By participating, however small, in solving a problem that breaks our heart, we become part of that solution. We become part of the light of the world. It is so easy to think that our offerings are small and unworthy, and therefore not worth doing. But real change is made from a thousand small gestures. We really don’t need to ride in on a white horse with capes billowing, and save the day. This world will be changed not by the mighty heroes, but by the small gestures of all of us, woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. The changes that can be realistically sustained over time by regular folks are the ones that will endure.

We are the light. We must never forget this. A thin sliver shining through a crack in a dark room is light nonetheless. We are the Strengthening Sun. We are the Return of the King. The Solstice season reminds us yet again to take stock of what truly matters to us, and to shine our light on it.

And when we do? We light a fuse that burns away the darkness. We renew hope, not only in ourselves, but in all those we touch. We become the light.

Pick something. Some small gesture. Commit to it. Own what breaks your heart, and let yourself crack open. And then feed it your care, your commitment, your compassion.

Become the Light. And Shine.

 

Honoring the Dead at Samhain

photo reposted from: reclaimingthedarkgoddess.blogspot.com

Honoring the Dead at Samhain has become more important to me over the years. The reason for this is likely obvious; as we get older, more and more people in our lives have gone from us.

When I first began practicing Pagan traditions in my late teens/early 20’s, the Samhain season was more about turning inward and focusing on deep personal work. It became a time of deepening my understanding of self, of striving to heal wounds and uncover more of my own authenticity. It was a time of creative gestation and introspection. There was always the element of the Dead, of course, but for me that aspect had more to do with the Mighty Dead than with loved ones who had passed on.

(The Mighty Dead, as understood in the Anderson Feri Tradition, are beings who shone so brightly in life that their imprint is still felt upon the ethers long after their deaths. Jimi Hendrix, Grace O’Malley, Martin Luther King, would all be examples of the Mighty Dead).

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the recently deceased. It was simply that I personally didn’t know many dead people.

This is no longer the case.

This year, our greater community has lost more people than in any year I have been alive so far. People who will surely claim a seat at the table of the Mighty Dead. People whom I was very close to.

Since last Samhain I have lost yet another coven sister to cancer, as well as a cousin to stroke. Added to those who already grace my altar from seasons past, I have come to realize just how important it is for me to have one night that is dedicated to sitting alone in private communion with my Dead.

This I did last night.

What an lovely tradition this is!  We Pagans have our foibles to be sure, but this is one thing we really get right. To set aside space to remember, commune with, and celebrate departed loved ones answers a longing left in their absence that little else can. I miss these people so much! I miss my Dad, I miss Tara Webster and Teresa Morgan. Hell, I miss my cats! To make a special place to toast them, share memories, say things I wish I had said, opens me to life and meaning in a glorious way. This tradition honors our Dead, reminds us of the connections we shared, and makes sacred the roles they played in our lives. It evokes melancholy too, of course; I sobbed full out for a long while. But that is part of it, part of fully owning who these people were to us.

Our Samhain traditions give us an opportunity to really sit with Death, to process it and come to terms with it. My cousin Sandra died while I was on tour. Aside from a brief conversation with my aunt while in the car, I had virtually no time to unfurl my feelings about it.

Lest my way of talking about this makes it sound like this is purely a psychological process that benefits the living, let me say that I see it as more than that. Yes, for those of us left behind, these rituals are profoundly healing. But it is not only that. The field of consciousness is a fascinating thing. I won’t pretend to know how it works, but there is something to the collective unconscious, the Akashic records, and those types of things.  There is something that happens in the field of consciousness that is more than “our own psychology”. At least that is how I see it. I am one of those who believe the Gods have a life of their own, and yet our own consciousness can flow into them and theirs into ours. There is a continuity of consciousness that continues on somehow, that transcends life and death and the boundaries of physical composition, and this is how we can commune with our Dead. As Lon Milo DuQuette likes to say, “Yes it is all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head is”.

But I digress, on a topic that has been discussed at length, with no known way of answering definitively. Suffice to say, communing with my Dead – and my Gods – from the perspective that they are more than a part of my own psyche, is the most empowering for me.  This was certainly the case last night.

My private Samhain reminded me how important ritual is in my life, and how I have let my ritual practices slide somewhat in deference to career. I have become “All Business” over the past few years, with my Capricorn tendency for goal setting, and the realization that as I get older I’d better have my financial house in order. That, coupled with discovering that the thing I most love to do – music – is also the most viable of the career paths available to me, but only if I work it relentlessly, has made me very driven indeed. As such, my ritual practices have suffered.

It is crucial to have parts of our lives that are not about goals, strategies, and saving for retirement. These thoughts can easily dominate; we live in difficult economic times, and most of us have to think about these things constantly just to keep our heads above water. This is all the more reason for us to practice, IMO. We need to remember why we work so hard. The things that are most meaningful are often not the things that bring home the bacon. Honoring our Dead is just one of the rituals that are important to me. Others are opening the gates to inspiration and beauty. Rituals for healing and relaxing. Spending time with friends and family among the living.

This year, my Dead have reminded me that all work and no play makes Sharon a dull girl. They have reminded me that feeding my soul is every bit as important as putting food on the table. One mustn’t be sacrificed for the other. This Samhain marks the beginning of a new commitment to keep the magic alive in my life on a regular basis. I give thanks to my Beloved Dead, who continue to teach and inspire me in death as they did in life.

May Samhain weekend bring equally insightful and meaningful communions with your own Beloved Dead, as well as a period of fruitful creativity!

Cinque Terre, Italy, part 1 – Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

We arrived late. We had ridden the sleek German trains through the Alps and into Italy, arriving at the coast as the sun set. Rolling past palatial villages and dilapidated “social housing” alike, we took in our first glimpses of the Mediterranean sea. It was flat and calm here, and gave no indication of the sweeping natural drama I was soon to witness.

IMG_1110

Turns out, this was the view that greeted us upon waking.

We arrived at the train station too late for the regional train, so got a cab to Il Borgo di Campi, just outside Riomaggiore. Our cabbie whipped through the hills at speeds fit for James Bond, and I hung my head out the window like a dog and drank deep of the sea air. A mist had crept in and clung to the valley, so there was no hint of the sea beyond the scent. As we climbed higher and higher, I could only imagine what views I’d be met with upon waking.

We stumbled down 200 stairs to our apartmenti, a small stucco studio clinging perilously to the the edge of a cliff. We slept with the soft lilt of the waves in our ears, and awoke to the Ligurian Sea.

Thus began our inevitable seduction by the siren of this land, the soul of nature at her most devastating.

As far as my own inner landscape was concerned, I did not bring a wholly rose colored view of the world to the occasion. Ferguson, MO, had erupted in a wave of protests over police violence just days before, and was met with an alarmingly militant response by police. The growing police state in America is a concern that eats away at me with increasing frequency, and it weighed heavily on my mind as we entered this phase of our adventure. It seemed irreverent to try and tune it out, yet I desperately wanted to give myself wholly to the experience of Italy, for it isn’t often we are able to afford ourselves such a majestic experience.

Conflicted, I carried with me a mix of melancholy and wonder as we embarked on our first explorations.

How much farther to Mordor?

How much farther to Mordor?

We chose to hike into the town of Riomaggiore. We took the Telegrafo up to the No. 3 trail. This was about a two hour hike for us, and some of it was very steep. It was also breathtakingly beautiful. One of the things Cinque Terre is known for is its many hiking trails along the coast. As we took in these sights and smells, this region became a part of us, and began to wash away all that was not part of its grandeur.

We are part of the soul of nature. This belief is at the core of my entire understanding and experience of spirituality. We not only dwell in her, but she also dwells within us. To walk along the coastal trails of Cinque Terre these 6 days has changed me, has brought a fresh nuance to the poetry in my soul, has deepened my capacity for beauty. Do I sound like a mush head? Perhaps. It would take a far more stoic soul than I to resist the romantic allure of this stretch of sea.

IMG_1158Some of the charms this particular trail held for us were the many votives to Mother Mary that were ensconced along the walls as we approached the town. I’m just going to say it: I like religion. I know it is not fashionable to be enamored of something so ‘quaint and outdated’ as religion – after all, are we not modern people, fully equipped with the faculties for rational thought? Surely I risk my membership in that most venerated of social orders, that of the pragmatic and educated Western thinker, to admit to such a provincial predilection. A certain bitter cynicism is, after all, required to maintain my place among the serious adults of the world.

Except that for me, scientific materialism has never held the be-all and end-all of answers to everything in the universe.

This is not to say that I think religion has the answers. I don’t. In fact, I think religion is often laughably bereft of any answers at all. What I do appreciate about religion, however, is the human striving to understand  mysteries that lie beyond the reach of scientific knowledge. Religion itself is not God, but a structure that we have created to help grapple with that sense of moreness that lies at the edge of perception. It is this yearning toward something, that which beckons from the deepest reaches of our being, exquisite in its vulnerability, yet insistent in its promise to fulfill some part of our humanity as yet untouched, that keeps me enchanted with religion.

As a Goddess gal, I was particularly pleased to see how very well represented Mother Mary was here in Cinque Terre!

IMG_1187

Riomaggiore

We entered Riomaggiore invigorated. The weather was perfect; just overcast enough to keep the sun from being overbearing, and with the remnants of the morning mist lingering in the air and on our skin. We had a “fruits of the sea” laden lunch. We roamed the town, with its twisting cobblestone alleyways and lazy cats draped over windows and walls, with the zeal of children, our imaginations utterly swept clean of the modern world.

It was wonderful.

Eventually the sun came out, and I walked right down the harbor and into the sea fully dressed.

The restaurant at Il Borgo Di Campi

The restaurant at Il Borgo Di Campi

It was a glorious day, full of physical exertion, astonishingly beautiful nature, new sights and smells, delicious food, and all manner of old world wonder. We returned to Il Borgo Di Campi at night to a delicious meal at the villa’s restaurant, and I fell asleep again to the sounds of the sea.

The next day, I was utterly empty. That stillness one hopes for as the fruit of meditation, but is only rarely granted (if you’re me), was mine this day. It was delicious. And so very needed! The 5 lands of the Cinque Terre are themselves pretty remote. Il Borgo Di Campi is part of a tiny hamlet well outside of Riomaggiore, and it was very quiet. Being a city girl, to achieve this level of quiet is the mythic equivalent of riding a unicorn. There were virtually no other sounds except the rhythm of the sea and an occasional bird.

But it wasn’t just outside that was quiet. Allowing my soul to open to this environment, allowing it to flow through me and attune me to its rhythms, created a stillness within that I rarely possess but frequently long for. My mind ceased its chatter, its worry,  its angst and uncertainty, and was utterly present.

We stayed on the property this entire day, just being with the quietude within and without. Meditating, reading, writing, lounging, listening.

IMG_1229

Our private garden.

The weight of the world will still be there when we return, and I will always ponder whether there is more I can do for the world, but one thing that remains true for me is this; we need these times of stillness. Far from being mere escapism, these times replenish us and reinvigorate us so that when we return to the world, we can be our most effective. We must return to the Well from time to time, to remember that there is beauty in this world, and that it is worth fighting for. When we return to the Well, we bring ourselves back to the world fully charged. These moments allow me to hear the deepest parts of myself, that aspect that is at the heart of what I think of as true religion, that pure presence that allows us to experience that something, that glimpse of eternity that graces us so rarely yet fortifies us so thoroughly. For this day, I was granted the gift of dwelling within this world view, and it was a sacrament.

I was so grateful to have this stillness, to have this monk-like existence in our little studio cottage on the cliffside of Cinque Terre. I could have easily spent another day here, if not several, but it was not meant to be. For the next day it was on to Monterosso and a quite different experience indeed.


Resources: 

I flew to Europe almost for free. Want to know how I did it? By becoming a Frequent Flyer ninja, of course! I became a member of Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel. He saves members endless hours of research by doing it himself and sending us the results. Want to become a member? If so, follow the banner!

(Extra awesome: if you decide to sign up through this banner link, I get a commission, making it that much easier for me to keep making beautiful music for you!)

Join the Travel Hacking Cartel

I also booked my hotels through Booking.com, and I was extremely happy with the entire process. Very user friendly website they’ve got! You can explore them via the banner, below.

(And yes I get a wee commission from this one too. )

Kassel, Germany

Lowenburg

We are currently in Winter’s hometown of Kassel, Germany. This town has many charms, not least of which is this castle on the hill. This castle is called the Lowenburg, which means the Lion’s Castle, and it is but one of the many gems in the Wilhelmshoehe Park.

You might think Kassel is named for this castle, but in fact, the Lowenburg is not as old as it looks. It was built by the landgrave Wilhelm IX at the end of the 18th century. It was modeled after a medieval castle, but is not nearly as old as Kassel itself. The city’s name is derived from the ancient Castellum Cattorum, a castle of the Chatti, a German tribe that had lived in the area since Roman times.

Kassel is an extremely green city, filled with numerous parks, footpaths, cobbled streets, and plazas where cars don’t go, making this a very friendly place to walk. There is also, in typical German fashion, one of the most efficient street train networks I have ever experienced. I have often wondered how Winter’s parents get by without a car, especially as they get older. Turns out, the answer is “Quite easily”.

Within a block of their home they can walk to a kiosk and buy a fuenferkarte, a 5-pack of tram tickets, and then catch the tram right across the street to any number of places in the city, including the castle.

Kassel has a number of neighborhood markets, so many that you are only ever within a stone’s throw of fresh bread, meat, cheeses, eggs, fruits and vegetables. The food we have gotten from these markets has all been remarkably delicious, fresh, and of outstanding quality. Growth hormones are banned here in Germany, and the standards for meat production are quite high. I find that I feel more ease in general about trusting the food I purchase here.

I also appreciate how clean everything is! You can run your hands along a stair railing or public door handle and there is no grime. Fine craftsmanship can be found just about everywhere, from door handles to wooden furniture to shower heads. German engineering, baby! It’s a thing.

Speaking of German cliche’s, sausages are quite popular indeed. They are served for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. They are given as gifts. They are as ubiquitous as the beer gardens that pepper virtually every street corner.

photo 5-6

Just outside Cafe KaKu, the ice cream shoppe.

Today we had delicious home made ice cream in an artful little shop owned by a charming Algerian man with warm soulful eyes and a radiant smile. He knew Winter through music, and has apparently worked closely with Peter Gabriel in the world music scene.

Winter’s hometown is the home of the Brothers Grimm, and we visited their museum yesterday. In truth, I expected more. It was mostly a collection of art – some quite good – based on the faerietales, plus some furniture from their home. I suppose I was expecting more along the lines of full on installations that brought the tales to life, and more about the people they collected from. I still enjoyed it though, and for 3 Euros who can complain?

photo 2-6

The hospitals don’t look like this in Oakland.

I adore the old world brick and stone buildings here, with their stories etched in their very stones, revealing an ethic of pride in craftsmanship. This is something that has largely been lost from the world; even here in Germany you can find the plastic, the modern, the superficial. But these things are mingled with history and old world charm in ways that are harder to find in America, particularly on the west coast. As someone who finds great sustenance in beauty, I can easily see that convalescence in this hospital surrounded by trees would facilitate healing quite naturally!

One thing we have both been struck by is how safe it feels here. America has been feeling like a tinder box for some time now, a constant civil unrest ready to burst into flame at a moment’s notice. Germany has certainly had its share of turmoil, but for the time being, it feels at peace with itself. It has been a welcome relief!

Tuesday morning we take the train for 12 hours to Cinque Terre, Italy, a group of 5 medieval villages nestled amidst the cliffs along the Mediterranean sea. I will unplug entirely for this, and allow myself to fully soak in the beauty of land and sea. We all must find ways to replenish ourselves with renewed grace, and this immersion in the naturally world is what fills my cup more than anything else.

When  I am back at the computer again in a few weeks, I will share some gems from the Five Lands! Until then, kiss your sweethearts and breath in the fresh air!


 

Resources: 

I flew to Europe almost for free. Want to know how I did it? By becoming a Frequent Flyer ninja, of course! I became a member of Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel. He saves members endless hours of research by doing it himself and sending us the results. Want to become a member? If so, follow the banner!

(Extra awesome: if you decide to sign up through this banner link, I get a commission, making it that much easier for me to keep making beautiful music for you!)

Join the Travel Hacking Cartel

I also booked my hotels through Booking.com, and I was extremely happy with the entire process. Very user friendly website they’ve got! You can explore them via the banner, below.

(And yes I get a wee commission from this one too. )

Tour Vignette: Wildcrafting in Western Mass

We drove like truckers, we set up, played our hearts out, shared laughs and stories and food with hosts and patrons alike, slept the sleep of the dead, and did it all over again. Day after day for two weeks. We landed in a charming wooden witch hut in a forest, with quirky angles, an overgrown garden, and herbs steeping in jars. By Sunday, we found ourselves beneath a canopy of trees with a master herbalist. Our mission: wildcraft 40 pounds of witch hazel.

That’s a lot of witch hazel, yo!

We were led in a prayer to the witch hazel plant before we began. A treehugger cliche perhaps? For a split second I thought so, and right on its heels the following thought: this is such a lovely way to live one’s life! To take a moment to speak to the tree, to acknowledge its consciousness and bring our own presence to the tree, allows us to be aware of its life, its needs, its limits. The dismissive judgement of “treehugger” is someone’s voice, to be sure. But it is not mine. Just something I heard somewhere, and took on. I let it go. For my part, this way of approaching the world is far preferable.

A plant will tell you what it wants. You can feel when you have taken enough leaves, and when you should stop. You can feel its rhythms, a kind of humming. You can feel its relief as you prune away the overgrowth, allowing it to shed its burden and drink the sunlight. Likewise you can feel it begin to strain if you take too much. All it requires is a moment to acknowledge the tree, a moment of prayer or communion, and you can establish this type of communication. It is so simple, so obvious, it is a wonder to me that we could ever have become so disconnected from nature as to lose our awareness of its life force. And yet, we have. As I wandered through the woods plucking witch hazel leaves, the interconnectedness of life was so prevalent, so right there, that I could no more deny its reality than I could deny the reality of love.

I wondered, as I gathered, whether my ease of communion with the plant was totally intuitive, or whether there was some teaching deep in my memory that was guiding me. I seemed to know a fair bit about best pruning practices. My dad had been a gardener, perhaps I had picked up some things from him. And then I remembered it was Father’s Day, and I was awash in such an intense hit of grief, memory, and missing my dad, that I burst into tears right there in the woods.

Life had been too much for my gentle father. He had no idea how to navigate the world of women’s emotions, and my stepmother had plenty of them. This dynamic destroyed our family, and he died with a great deal of loss and regret. There was something of a “visitation” about this experience, cathartic and healing, as though parts of my relationship with my father that I had lost could be regained in this moment. It was as though the forest opened me to places inside myself that I keep safely tucked away, and allowed me to commune with my father, or at least, with his memory. This grief was a gift, for I would rather have moments of true sadness than to tuck my love for my father so far inside myself that I forget where I’ve left it.

I continued on, going from tree to tree, taking what leaves were offered – in some cases the trees were glad to be rid of them; I’d go to pluck one leaf and five would come off in my hand – it occurred to me that the life of the wanderer is a sort of wildcrafting process. You meander along, never really knowing what you’ll find, but you open yourself to life, and pluck what seems most fitting from what is offered. There is a certain amount of trust that must be extended, and this too is a lovely way to live one’s life. You don’t know what you’ll be given, for life is anything but routine out on the road. Yet somehow you always find what you need.

Sometimes that ends up being a gas station burrito, of course, but that just makes the home made soup all the sweeter when it comes!

 

The Call of the Winding Road

Road at cloudy sunset copy

We are on the road! And with the exception of two weeks in July we will be on the road until mid-October.  As we get ready for life on road, there is a commingling feeling of anticipation and anxiety, a feeling I have grown so accustomed to that it doesn’t bother me any more. The “will I get it all done” anxiety is just part of the process, and I know that indeed I will get most of it done, and what doesn’t get done will be non-essential.

I love the feel of the road, the roll of the tires beneath the car. There is something so meditative about it. The rhythm of the road lulls me into an introspective trance, and I am thankful to have the space to settle into deep contemplation. Over the years there have been many who’ve told me that I would hate this life. Would that I had realized sooner than, no, in fact it was they who would hate this life. For me, it is a salvation. I cherish this time of introspection, for in these moments of stillness and rhythm do I find the jewels of what life has to offer.

Then of course, there is the arrival. Somewhere new. A different setting entirely. New scents, new tastes, friends we haven’t seen in many months. Changing up my surroundings always makes me feel fresh. My mental habits are challenged and upturned, and I find it easier to break free of the ruts we all tend to fall into.

Yes. I am inflicted with an incurable Wanderlust. When I think back to how I came to develop this taste for travel, the answer comes easily. My Dad. He had an unquenchable love of travel. When I was thirteen, he packed up our entire family and carted us off to Thailand for a year. I admit to feigning torture, as such upheaval can be challenging for a teenage girl hopelessly trying to be cool. Yet, the memories from this time in my life remain some of my richest. Over the years, my Dad saw as much of the world as he could, trading his skills as a teacher for the ability to live abroad. I didn’t live with him for much of this time, but I always admired him. When he died, I inherited his travel scrapbooks, and they held me in thrall. My sister and I spent hours pouring over them.

So as I prepare myself for an extended journey, I think fondly of my Dad. I thank him for instilling in me the value of travel. Of seeing the world and how others live. This year we make our first foray into performing in Europe, with two shows in Germany. We’ll be staying with Winter’s family in Kassel, very near where the Grimm Brothers lived and wrote many of their famous faery tales. I plan to write some songs here, based on a few of Grimm’s tales. We will also visit Cinque Terre in Italy for our 20th wedding anniversary. It is only 10 hours’ drive from where we are staying, and will be the fulfillment of a dream I have had for several years now.

The life I have chosen is precarious at times. Not brimming over with security, and yet it answers a call in me like nothing else ever has. Like my father, I find myself trading on what skills I have to enable a life of travel. To drink in as much of the world as I can, tasting as many different expressions of life as possible during my short time here, is a spiritual experience for me, and one of the best ways I can think of to show my gratitude for the gift of this life.

Since I have now embarked on a journey lasting the better part of  six months, this blog will become a travel journal of sorts. I will share my stories, foibles epiphanies, laughs, and any travel tips I find useful. I hope you’ll visit often!

Let the journey commence!

Love – it isn’t just for Hallmark Cards Anymore

CupidLove has become cliche.

It seems trite now, a meaningless hippie platitude.  Love is not all we need. We also need water. And oxygen. And preferably, all our limbs. We need banks to stop robbing us blind. We need a stronger economy so that we have a chance to thrive. We need to find sustainable ways of living on our finite planet. We need a healthy immune system. We need to be able to defend our loved ones. We need competence and compassion. We need reliable news sources. We need creative outlets.

So, with a roll of our eyes, we toss “All we need is love” into the rubbish bin, alongside “We are all One” and “Visualize World Peace”.

Which is too bad, because it is one of the most ennobling experiences we humans can have.

How can we reclaim love? How can we remind each other that it is more than a sentiment for Hallmark cards and pale pink hearts and cloying romantic comedies where all problems are solved and everyone lives happily ever after within a 90 minute time frame?

Maybe we need to remember how fierce love can be.

  • Love is the strength of a mother to lift a car to rescue her child.
  • Love is a Tibetan monk setting himself on fire in protest of his culture being destroyed.
  • Love is giving up a cushy job so that you can devote your life to ending sex trafficking.
  • Love is speaking out against the oppression of others.
  • Love is keeping our commitments.

To reclaim love, we can also think about the awesomeness (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, not with “dude” added after it) of life itself . Consider our situation: We experience our lives from within these automated meat suits, itself a miracle. We are breathing air because a long time ago a bunch of chemicals decided to bunch together for whatever incomprehensible reason – or no reason at all – and create life. And here we are, with a zillion different types of flowers and animals and rocks and things to eat, look at, and experience. We are on this planet alongside music. And Fjords. And Lions. Lions! And a gajillion stars that are 200 million miles away from each other. And those are the close ones! Just the ones right next to us in this one galaxy, which is frigging huge. And of which there are a gazillion more.

If this doesn’t inspire love, or at least awe, you might already be dead.

I believe this level of awe is also love. For what is love if not an experience that cracks our hearts open to the beauty, wonder, and amazement of creation? What is love if not to be overcome by the majesty of this glorious, mysterious life?

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! May you fall in love with everything!