WILD WINDS HOWL OUTSIDE and blow sleety rain sideways. Yesterday the fields and lanes around the village here were turned to seas by the torrential weather. Beyond the dark windowpanes our hill is become an island and rivers lash bridges. Inside our cottage-on-the-high-seas, the warm rustles and crackles and colours of Yuletide glow nevertheless. Certain lurchers have the best spot by the woodburner.
Yet again, Christmas eve has come round before I've had a chance to catch my breath. The mad rush of the winter season seems an antithesis to what our bodies yearn for - hearth and home and hibernation, and yet we are caught in it, tripping over our damp bootlaces and dropping scarves and bags as we hurry to the December 25th finish line.
This has been a busy season for me; I've had stalls at fayres to begin the winter doings, where I met lots of good folks and felt re-nourished by the joy of meeting in the flesh the people who buy and love my work.
Winter has been blessed with gatherings, too. The weekend before last marked a most wonderful melee of Breton and French music and dancing in our village hall. Folks came from counties and countries far and wide to attend this stirring magic of a happening. Our hearts and feet were held captive for hours by the arts of Wod and Red Dog Green Dog who played an array of bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, concertina, accordion and fiddle. What a night!
And because one night of that sort of magic is not enough, we did it all over again in the pub the next day - a session of staggering quality, where French and Breton tunes were joined by Manouche Swing, English Folk, Klezmer and Balkan musics on many beautiful instruments, and even knitting-needle percussion! I had so much fun I was almost late for my own band's gig in another pub down the road!
All through this autumn-into-winter four of us have been meeting every week in a cabin at the edge of the woods to learn the art of puppetry - the realizing of a long-held dream of mine. We've been taught and directed by Howard Gayton, a dramatist and mask and puppet performer of many years' and miles' experience. He has shown us the subtle magic of sending your awareness into an inanimate object to bring it to life, beginning with a humble piece of cloth. Over the weeks, this work developed into a little show with puppetry by Nomi McLeod and Howard and I, a story devised by all four of us, props and puppet (really just a bit of cloth augmented with found objects) made by me, and music by Andy Letcher. Last Friday we had our first five showings to friends - to let them see what we'd been working on these past months - and it was truly magic! (And interestingly I wasn't crippled by nerves.) Thanks to Terri Windling for the photos of us performing.
I must say that I am quite astounded by how happily I've taken to this artform, though I am just a beginner. There is something just right about the particular combination of figure-craft and music and the sending-out-of-spirit, and I skip towards the next developments of this wonderful new bowstring with glee!
My paints have been kept occupied these hibernating months, too, and the latest of my paintings I can show you here.
It began with a piece of Yew wood, whose shape you might recognise as neighbour to this one.
First I drew with pencil,
and then the paint began...
I finished it in the evenings at home...
This is The Wing Giver, a painting commissioned by Julian, who is my first client to give me no brief whatsoever! He just asked me to make him a painting! At first I was wary - what if he didn't like what I created? But he convinced me in the end that he really did want what came straight from me. So, after asking to hear a few things about Julian and his family to set me on the right inspiration-path, I painted what came, and feel truly grateful for the wings this gave me. I am very happy with the painting that I made given this freedom, and hope Julian and his family will be too - it will wing its way to him after Christmas, as the paint is only just dry.
Our home is warm and greened with boughs. The electricity is intermittent due to the winds and so we sit sometimes by candle and firelight with our busied souls racing to catch us up and join us by the woodburner.
The beautiful-looking book you can see above was a gift from Tom to me - The Night Life of Trees - published by the wonderful Tara Books in India. The stunning illustrations are hand screen printed onto black, and are based on the mythology of the Gond tribe which tells of the magical spirited world of the trees that comes to life once we've gone to sleep.
There is magic happening in the kitchen now as food is prepared, and in the nooks and corners of our home where green men spew ivy and mistletoe, logs reveal their warm and long-kept secrets, and we hunker down under the thatch for our long winter's nap.
I leave you with some chinks of light to guide you across the stormy dark seas out there. First, Lantern by the band Clogs (film by Vincent Moon) - a mesmeric and gentle music:
Second, a tanka from the wonderful collection of tanka poetry Circling Smoke, Scattered Bones by Joy McCall, which is a raw and beautiful sideways glance at the human heart:
if only I could
live in an old light-house
far out to sea
a house with no corners
and always the light, shining out
I wish you all a joyous and wonder-filled Yuletide, chattering with happy hearth-heart-stories, the giving of wings, and much light, shining out.