A Promise to a River

Wilbur-River

When you tour around to various magic-themed festivals as much as I do, you end up participating in a lot of community magics. Which, of course, I love. Sharing in ritual is a wonderful way to strengthen ties and build lasting bonds with the people you meet, imbuing a talisman with memories and insights from the festival experience. I always make an effort to participate in whatever magical intent the organizers have prepared for us.

Such was the case a few weeks ago, when we played two festivals on consecutive weekends in Ontario; Spirits of the Earth and Kaleidoscope Gathering. At Spirits of the Earth’s closing ritual, we were each given a stone with an 8-rayed star painted on it. We were to imbue the stone with something we wished to manifest, a goal or yearning that we would carry forth into the world, fueled by the inspiration of the festival. Then we were to cast our stone into a body of water.

A fairly standard bit of magic, as these things go. The spirit of nature, in this case the soul of a river, invigorates our talisman with its own properties, and we benefit through the linking. We offer our stones to the water; a lake, a river, an ocean, as a way for nature to witness our desire, to accept it into her. To attune ourselves to the rhythm and flow of the natural world is to open our souls to her, and an open soul has a much better chance of crafting a fulfilled life. I link the sticky emotion of my desire to the stone, and then offer it to the river, that she may enliven it with her own essence, that our mingled essences will bring the wisdom of the river to my heart’s desire.

Such were my musings as I realized, the next weekend at the Kaleidoscope Gathering, that here I was, in the presence of the perfect river. I had been swimming in the glorious Bonnechere River every day, so a relationship had already begun. As I was scheduled to make the mad dash back across the country the next day (and thus have a significantly higher concrete to water ratio) I decided this was the right moment to cast my stone to the waters.

So what was my intention? Often, I take every opportunity, magical or otherwise, to boost my earnings, as keeping enough money coming in to continue this “musical ministry” of ours is an ongoing challenge. However, this time I felt secure enough in that regard to turn my focus on another issue. I want to gain more mastery over my health. I want to keep myself fit enough to do this work for years to come. I need to find ways of getting enough exercise on the road, and I need to make sure I have healthy food prepared ahead of time so that I can avoid eating junk. My voice is very dependent on being well rested, on my muscles being toned and strong, yet relaxed, and on allergies not being triggered. Exhaustion definitely takes a toll on my voice. And yet exhaustion is difficult to avoid on the road.

So my wish was to have my voice working in prime capacity at all times, and to find and develop the habits that would most support this. For when my voice is on, I know that it is a gift. It is a tool of magic that can enchant and captivate, and if I can enchant and captivate with consistency, the money will be there.

I spent time in meditation, and then I waded into the river and cast my stone, asking the river to help me. I then swam and surrendered myself to her totally.

A short time later, I realized something. I hadn’t merely asked the river to help me, to open me to insight and guidance that would lead me to vocal and physical well being. I had also made a promise to the river.

I had made a promise to uphold my end of this bargain, to actively commit to finding ways to maximize health on the road. It is not only what the river can do for me, it is what I am pledging to do, as the river is my witness.

This is what a reciprocal relationship with nature looks like, at least in part. If I believe in the soul of nature (and I do), and the soul of this particular river, enough that I find worth in asking it to witness, to hold my prayers, to lend me its life force, then surely I must also see that asking the river for its attention compels a certain respect on my end. What effort, what direction of life force am I throwing in with my stone, that makes this more than a meaningless gesture? If I ask the river for her gifts, I must also agree to put my own skin in the game. I am making a promise to this river to cultivate my own human vibrance, that my voice stays supple and strong enough to sing to her when next I see her.

I would not expect my new river friend to magically solve my problems for me, any more than I would expect a human friend to do so. We all know the frustrated therapist, at her wits’ end because those she counsels won’t do the work. And yet, too often we forget that the magic we cast doesn’t just happen, well, magically. Our magic deepens and supports our work, but it is still our work to do.

So Bonnechere River, here is my pledge to you. In exchange for your inspiration, for your delicious, electrical life force, which invigorates me anew every time I see your picture and remember you on my skin, I commit myself to actively refining my health, so that I am a finely tuned machine, able to deliver songs that set spines tingling whenever they are sung. I will demonstrate this commitment to you by writing and recording you your very own song. I thank you for your gifts, Bonnechere River, and they will not be taken for granted.

The Green Album is Here!!!!

Green-Album-Here

At long last, the collaborative project Winter and I have been working on for the better part of a year is available to the public!

The Green Album is a collection of 14 songs by 14 Pagan musicians written exclusively for the project, with the theme of love and reverence for the earth, and with 25% of the proceeds going toward the Rainforest Trust.

We chose the Rainforest Trust for their high Charity Navigator rating, as well as for their collaborative spirit, partnering internationally with other groups local to the endangered areas they work for.

Artists featured on the Green Album are:

Ginger Doss
Wendy Rule
SJ Tucker
Bekah Kelso
Tuatha Dea
Damh the Bard
Kellianna
Celia Farran
Mama Gina
Brian Henke
Spiral Dance
Sharon Knight and Winter
Murphy’s Midnight Rounders
Spiral Rhythm

Working with the artist of the Green Album was collaboration at its finest! Every artist involved exemplifies the “co-operation not competition” ethos, which made this project a joy to work on, and has strengthened bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime. Winter and I are truly thrilled to have been part of this, and I hope it will be just the beginning of an ongoing tradition of musicians coming together to put our ideals into concrete practices for making this world a better place.

Would you like to make your own contribution to the Rainforest Trust while treating yourself this fine collection of new songs?

Here’s how you can get a copy:

COMPACT DISC:

CDs are available exclusively through the individual artists. We each have a limited number to sell to our circles. If you buy from Winter and I, we keep the 75% of the sale not designated to the Rainforest Trust. If you are planning to see us along our tour route, you can pick up a copy at a live show. (Our tour dates can be found at http://www.sharonknight.net/tour/)

However, if you will not be seeing us soon, you can also order it via Paypal. Send $20 to sharon@sharonknight.net (Please select “send money to friends and family”, rather than “Paying for goods and services”). Include a note to let me know it’s for the Green Album, and to confirm your address.

We will sign it upon request, and get it out to you promptly!

DIGITAL DOWNLOAD:

Digital downloads are available immediately through CD Baby, and can be gotten right here: http://www.thegreenalbum.net/home.html

We are very excited to share this project with you!

Much love from the road! xoxoxox Sharon and Winter

Strange Denizens Beneath the Bay

Photo Jul 24, 10 25 17 AM

When starting any travel journal, I like to start where I am. So this morning I went out to the bay to say a final farewell before we hit the road.

As I was strolling along, I happened upon these unfortunately looking spirals of what looked like some sort of animal poop. Bird poop, I wondered? What kind of bird poops in spirals? None I had ever seen. Usually bird poop is a bit more splappy. I decided further investigation was in order.

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So up close I got. This poop is thoroughly covered in sand. Did the animal poop underground? Is this from some sort of creature that dwells beneath the sand? Maybe it isn’t poop at all. I grabbed a stick and sliced through a few piles. It was sand through and through. Not poop at all.
Some underground creature must be burrowing out its dwelling.

Photo Jul 24, 10 31 10 AM

As I stood there, I saw a spiral of sand push up through the ground. A biological event was in progress, clearly!

As I looked around, I noticed these little jellyfish-like creatures nearby. There were hundreds of them. I decided these creatures must have something to do with the spirals. Perhaps they burrowed up from beneath the sand, and then expanded into this shape once they were above ground?

Most curious. I have never seen a creature like this, nor heard about one.

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They also left these little sink hole thingies.

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I decided they must be jellyfish and went on my merry way.

When I returned home, I decided to consult the Almighty Oracle. (i.e. Google).

This is what I learned:

Actually yes it was poop. So glad I got right up close to it and prodded it with a stick! Lucky for me, it is in fact still mostly sand. Turns out these spirals are the castings of something called a Lugworm, which can grow as long as 9 inches. And those jellyfish? They are sacks filled with Lugworm larvae. EW.

Apparently it is Lugworm hatching time right now at the Emeryville section of the SF Bay, and my fascinating nature experience was every bit as revolting as I had originally feared. Moreso even. Giant worm larvae, yay! To think that just a foot or so below me was swarming and slithering with giant worms near a foot long! Leaving big ole jelly sacks to hatch more of themselves, while littering the beach with worm poop.

I love nature!!

Silliness aside, that was actually kind of cool for me. To witness a biological happening that is not 3 minutes from my house, something that I had never even heard of. And their poop is pretty clean. These worms eat sand and absorb the bacteria out of it for their food, and then eliminate the sand. You could say this is the cleanest sand on the beach!

I still draw the “Poop is cool” line at coffee beans shat out of the butts of lemurs though.

No wonder the seagulls are so fat and happy around here!

Stay tuned for more riveting tales of weirdness! Our tour starts in 30 minutes!

For a pictographic tour journal you can follow along on Instragram – I’m sharonknight777.

Cinque Terre, Italy, part 2 – Monterosso al Mare

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Monterosso al Mare

Our arrival in Monterosso was a bit of a shock. After my monk-like experience in our remote lodgings outside Riomaggiore, the tourist cliches of Monterosso al Mare scaled heights of garishness both comic and jarring. A feeling of dread swept over me as our little taxi whisked us up the perilously narrow pathway to our hotel.

The hotel, Hotel Porto Roca, didn’t help with our desire to feel hipper than the average tourist. I chose this hotel for three reasons; location, location, location. Seriously, check out these pictures! I wanted to have that view just once in my life!

We paid for it. Our room, on the side without the ocean view, was $400 a night. And for all of its various terraces, courtyards, infinity pool and the like, there was a certain charm that was missing from the hotel itself. It didn’t feel comfortable or relaxed. The staff struck me as either pretentious or obsequious, depending on who I was talking to. As though they were all carefully trained in making their clientele feel elevated above the masses. (Honestly, is this really what rich people want?) It was all a bit “Lifestyles of the rich and famous” for our taste. I half expected Jason Statham to stroll through the front doors at any moment.

Also the beaches put me off, with their little rows of umbrellas crowding out any possible view of the ocean. Why would anyone want to litter a perfectly lovely beach with rows and rows of umbrellas?

So I spent my first day in Monterosso feeling rather grumbly about having left Riomaggiore. Still we were in freaking Italy, so we figured it wouldn’t be that hard to make the best of it. Once we got settled in, we took off to explore the town. Tourism or no, this was a new experience, and I am a softie for those.

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These towers are all over Cinque Terre. Apparently they are lookouts for pirates, but we still got in.

We walked through the town, and I grudgingly had to admit that it was full of medieval Italian charm. We found one of the hiking trails and followed it for awhile, until the lack of appropriate shoes made itself apparent. Then we headed back, and stopped at a market to get supplies for a picnic dinner. I swam in the pool, which overlooked the sea and lifted my mermaid spirits considerably.

The  next morning I awoke feeling tired and washed out. I had strange dreams of being impoverished (as I slept in the swanky hotel, heh) and also the day before took a bit out of us with the travel and the impromptu hike in less than ideal shoes. It had been pretty warm the day before as well, and I was thinking as I arose that if it were hot again today I may not be up for a hike. Which was the main reason I wanted to explore this region. I felt my inner curmudgeon taking root around my heart.

As we headed into breakfast, served on a balcony with a yet another spectacular view of the sea, it began to rain.

You might think this would seal the deal on my grumpy mood but nope. This lifted my spirits considerably! As I sat drinking a remarkably delicious cappuccino, I felt the mist and drizzle invigorate me, and realized this would be the perfect day for a good long hike along the coast.

Cinque Terre is truly a hiker’s paradise. The opportunity to explore the many narrow trails nestled into the cliffs along the sea is what drew me to this region. As a lover of both hiking and the ocean, I was willing to go to great lengths to see this part of the world. Many months of planning, scrimping, and saving went into this. And today was the day!

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Heading out of Vernazza to Corniglia.

One of the nice things about our hotel was that the the trail started right from it. So after breakfast, we trundled down the driveway and off we went. It took us two hours to hike to Vernazza. After exploring the town and having lunch, we got it in our heads that we had the energy to then walk to Corniglia. Another two hours. My feet felt like little sausages by the time we arrived! As we also walked around the towns, we estimated we must have walked 6 -7 hours this day. Boy, was I glad of the regional trains that connect the towns, so we didn’t have to walk back!

There are few things more satisfying to me than utterly using myself up! No troubled sleep this night.

We spent our final day lounging on the beach and swimming in the sea. The chip on my shoulder about the little umbrellas came right off. The Ligurian Sea is not like the Pacific, my “home” sea. The Pacific is freezing, and it will kill you. This was warm and salty and inviting! Not that I still didn’t manage to nearly drown myself; in my zeal to become one with the ocean, I swam too far out, and then, after I had completely expended my energy, realized I still had to swim back. My lungs were near bursting as I struggled past the exhaustion to get to shore. I was beginning to fear that the hot Italian lifeguard was going to have to come rescue me. As Hot Italian Lifeguard fantasies go, this would not have been choice A.

Once I learned my limits and spent a good twenty minutes gasping for air, I was able to return to the sea with a more accurate understanding of the limits of my own mortality, and thus I enjoyed the rest of the day immensely. There were fruity drinks and tasty snacks. If you find yourself in a touristy situation, might as well go all in, I figure.

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That’s Hotel Porto Roca, nestled into the cliffs. Fun for pretending you are Maharet from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

I warmed up to both the Hotel Porto Roca and the umbrella-laden beaches. Once I let go the need to be “above” such tourism, I sunk into the pure pleasure of a “getting away from it all” style vacation, and had a grand old time! Relations with the hotel staff got more down to earth, and the little umbrellas were quite nice to lounge under. Though I probably won’t book here again unless I win the lottery, I have to say, they really do have the absolutely primo location. (And their own private beach.) If $400 a night is no big deal for you, I’d recommend it, for views, delicious drinks, and the only infinity pool in Monterosso. Definitely hold out for a sea view room!

Our final day was spent in Porto Venere, a lovely area that, from the look of some of the yachts, is a billionaire playground. It has a huge castle jutting up out of the hillside. It was lovely, but ultimately didn’t hold a candle to the Cinque Terre. So I’ll keep this post from getting much longer and cap the storytelling for now.

If you’d like to go:

I used Booking.com to book both our accommodations in Riomaggiore and Monterosso. I was extremely happy with their service. It was very user friendly and I would recommend them to anyone looking to book a trip. Here is a link directly to their offerings in the Cinque Terre region.

http://www.booking.com/region/it/lecinqueterre.

Also:

We flew to Europe almost for free. How? By becoming Frequent Flyer ninjas, 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 book or join through either of these links, I get a commission, making it that much easier for me to keep making beautiful music for you!)

Join the Travel Hacking Cartel

Happy travels!!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

 

On Dogs, and the Unquenchable Spirit of Love

While Winter and I were out on tour, heading to New Orleans on a crisp October morning, we pulled off to a gas station somewhere in the South. As I headed toward the door, a very friendly dog came up to me, smiling and wagging his tail. He was obviously comfortable with people, yet his back left foot was injured so badly he was not able to put any weight on it. I wondered what the dog’s story was. A creature this well socialized would have “people”, would he not? People who would take him to the vet. His injury seemed to me severe enough that I would have expected him to be somewhat wild, snarling and baring teeth. Or at least wary.

I stepped inside.

When I came out, a homeless man walked past, and the dog fell in stride with him, looking up at him in absolute adoration. The dog had no concept that he wasn’t being cared for, or that he would have it better with someone else. Just utter adoration for his companion. It  moved me with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I wondered – is it fair for folks to have pets when they can’t care for that pet? On the other hand, who knows what that dog’s situation would be without this man? Perhaps the dog had been abandoned, and they found each other. Perhaps they fell on hard times together. Whatever their circumstances, they were in it together, and each had someone to share a difficult situation with. It seemed, in that moment, that having someone to love and be loved by was the most important thing to each of them. If they were hungry, at least they were hungry together. If it was cold, they were cold together. If they hurt, they hurt together. The only thing I could imagine would make that dog sad was not losing the use of his foot, nor going hungry, but if his companion were to die.

In a circumstance fraught with hardship I can only imagine, that dog’s unmitigated spirit of love and friendship left a lasting impression on me as to the power of love and kindness to prevail over all things. I hope that we all may remember the power of kindness toward one another. And I hope those two unlikely companions are doing alright.

Faerieworlds Review

One of the many enchanting creatures to be found at Faerieworlds.

You Guys.

Faerieworlds was freaking epic. Seriously. It was the coolest festival I have ever been to.  It combined the best elements of California neotribal/hippie festivals with Rennaissance Faire and mythology.

I should say, I personally am not all that moved by standard hippie-fests. Too much techno and pretense. Not enough real substance. But the mythic element at FW really brought tradition and folklore into play in a way that deepened the whole experience for me. Certainly not in keeping with any sort of historical accuracy, but it’s not about that. It’s about dipping into our collective unconscious, and drawing forth our myths and legends to inspire and imagine our current world into being. And at that, Faerieworlds succeeded spectacularly.

Perhaps I am biased, because I want to live in a world full of pixies and pirates. But so be it. I got to, and therefore I will wax poetic for the rest of this post. :+)

Things I loved

Warming Up - Faerieworlds 2012

Playing on the main stage!
The sound was good, the audience was appreciative and fantastically dressed, we played well and were well received, and it set a lovely tone for the rest of the day. We performed early, which was nice because then we got a full day to play, unfettered by the need to be “on”.

Tricky Pixie

The bands –
Tricky Pixie are always a favorite of mine. They are all three of them fantastic people as well as consummate performers- SJ Tucker, Alexander James Adams, and Besty Tinney. They play a whimsical yet gutsy style of folk rock that they call “Myth-Punk” and are one of the more original bands in existence today. I frankly adore them.

Donovan
played as well, which I enjoyed. I have been seeing some less than stellar reviews of his show around the internet, and at 66 years of age I suppose it could be said he wasn’t really in his prime, but considering I’ve been listening to him since discovering my dad’s folk albums as a kid, and that he was my first introduction to any sort of fairytale folk music, I enjoyed him for the legacy he represents. (View the complete line-up).

(Side note: when I am 66 I fully intend to still be in my musical prime, touring around and playing all the time. Just so’s you know. I’ll be the eccentric old Pirate Queen.)

Zero Waste Policy –
The FW crew were really on top of recycling. They had recycling bins as well as compost bins all over the site. You couldn’t walk 25 feet without finding another one, it seems. As someone who spends several months a year traveling around to these things, I can say that Faerieworlds blew most of them out of the water in this regard. I hope this is a policy that will be widely adopted by events producers everywhere. (Learn more).

Phoenix Rising Designs

The artisans and their wares– There were truly some spectacular goodies! I always go right for the clothes, and there were all manner of ways to dress as a mythical creature! Such as this: >>>

Want to see some more cool FW vendors? Click here. 

Electronica temple – Not being a big electronica fan, these are usually in the “pretentious-yet-empty” category for me, but this one was really tasteful. The music they were playing was very down tempo and chill and actually…good. I did in fact feel like this was a good place to relax and do some yoga. It was nice that this was provided as a vignette one could visit without having it be the dominant theme of the fest.

Hang Player – speaking of vignettes, there was this hang player just sitting up on the Neverworlds stage round about midnight, just jamming away and creating the most delicately beautiful bell-like tones. It was utterly mesmerizing. Haven’t heard a hang? Here’s one.  Just imagine him under a grove of trees amidst a lush meadow under the full moon:

Freaking Amazing Light Show, with Jellyfish in the Sky – 
Blue lights radiating out from the stage, rippling across the expanse of sky in waves, accented with emerald circles creating a harmony of patterns, and papier mache jellyfish on tall sticks lit from within with colored lights, so that the entire sky looked like a great cosmic sea.  ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Have I mentioned the moon was almost full? Sadly, I have found no pictures to even remotely do this justice, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations. It was spectacular.

Pirate Tavern!
Yep, right there in the woods. Complete with Tricky Pixie as the house band, cutting loose with the bawdy songs and ribaldry. Many others shared songs as well, and I spent the majority of my evening there. Regrettably, I didn’t contribute much myself because, earlier in the evening, I had made other decisions as to the night’s recreation.  Now I know there’s a Pirate Tavern,  I will make more “lyric-remembering-friendly” decisions in the future. But I had a lovely time nonetheless, singing along to choruses and whatnot, and I don’t regret my earlier decision. There were jellyfish in the sky after all.

All in all, Faerieworlds was an utterly magickal awakening of the imagination on so many levels, levels that I deeply resonate with. If indeed festival culture exists to give people a chance to imagine a better world by living it for a weekend, as many claim, then Faerieworlds hit the nail on the head as far as the kind of  world I want to live in.  This is now my “can’t miss” summer festival, and I will be organizing all other touring around it. My own quirky brand of magick so belongs here!  Fans of myth and legend, this is your inner world come to life!

Musings from the Road

Hey you guys!

I finally have a little down time to write a bit for you.  We are peacefully ensconced in a Marriott hotel in upstate New York with our friend Kellianna, enjoying some much needed down time and a chance to use fast internet, to wash ourselves thoroughly and sleep on a cushy bed.

I enjoy the extremes of first being in festival mode, getting dusty and sweaty, and living closer to the land where everything is just a bit more difficult, and then shifting into a few days of luxury.

Of course, it may be a bit rich to describe our modest hotel as “luxury” but that is part of the beauty. Compared with standing in line for a cold shower and then being sweaty and dusty again in an hour, it really is luxury.

The dusty festival of which I speak was the New York Faerie Festival. This is truly a magickal event, and the closest I have yet come to running away with the circus. Based on the Renaissance faire model, but much more fantasy than period,  this festival is a fine example of a group of people coming together to create a magickal alternate world for folks to hang out in. It was on a gorgeous piece of land with lots of trees, a river, and little glens everywhere.  It had the usual “day pass” vibe, with vendors and performances of all types – we played 4 shows on several stages throughout the festival – and also had the camping/after party element, with folks sharing stories and arts,  jamming together and showing off their talents. Being part of the performer’s camp was really a treat, with hundreds of costumed festival goers spontaneously entertaining each other into the night.

We had the luxury of camping with the swankiest camp, which made for a very “gypsy wagon around the fire” feel. It was so much fun to get myself dolled up in front of a mirror propped up against a huge apple tree amidst a circle of huge tents and hanging candle holders of colored glass.

One of my favorite pieces of this is the traveling musician tribe that we find ourselves a part of.  We end up at similar shows by sheer luck of the draw, hang for a while, tell stories and make fun, watch each other’s shows and often sit in, then we are off to our respective adventures until serendipity has it that we end up in the same place again.

We find ourselves travelling with Kellianna for the next week, as we were booked at consecutive festivals. Wendy Rule was also at NYFF, and we will rejoin with her later in the year for the New Orlean’s Witch’s Ball.

Another cool thing that has happened on this journey is that www.couchsurfing.org rocks! If you like to travel and meet folks, you have got to know about this. It is a website whereby people offer their homes to travelers. And it isn’t just couches, it is often a spare bedroom with a private bath.  This has saved us a lot of money as we’ve gotten started on this musician road, and has many times made the difference between whether we make a profit or not.

We had a fantastic experience in St. Paul with some folks from couchsurfing.org. They had a beautiful home with wonderful soft, clean pets to snuggle with. They came to our show, and even organized a couch surfing meet-up group at a charming rooftop sake brewery.  We would have never discovered this place if they hadn’t taken us there, which is a big part of the beauty of friending some locals.

It renews my faith in humanity that people are willing to extend such trust and goodwill to one another that they open their homes to strangers. It hearkens back to a more innocent time, and bears witness to the possibility that the world can be a friendly place where we all look after each other and strive to make life better for each other. Certainly there are those times when you need down time away from people, but if you are up for an adventure in meeting new people, couch surfing is a very cool way to do it.

Well, it gets late, and we are off to Canada again tomorrow, so time to close the computer. I am glad I had a chance to jot a few things down before internet access gets dubious again. I am so glad to have had a chance to share this part of the journey with whomever may be reading.

All the best to you, and may your journey be sweet and full of unexpected gifts.