Ablutions

Mandu Village, Bank of the Ganges River
Uttar Pradesh, India
Inevitably

On a scorching afternoon, months before monsoon rains would bring relief from the heat, Rohan released his young students from their stuffy classroom and retired to his small hut where he could rest in a cooling breeze that flowed off the Ganges River. Stripped to a lungi, he bathed in the cold river water and lay back on his narrow bed of woven rope. His wife cooked dal and rice on her small mud stove and sang a lilting song, invoking Goddess Durga's protection for their unborn child.

'Thatching has come loose,' he mused, looking up at a rope hanging down from the wood and hay structure covering the porch.

Suddenly the rope turned into a snake that slithered down the side of the hut, bit his wife on the leg, and killed her instantly.

"Arrghh!' Rohan gasped, falling off his cot. He stood paralyzed, unsure momentarily whether to run toward his wife or away from the viper.

Then the snake writhed once, turned into a bull and charged into the field. He struck a farmer unawares and killed him outright, leaving the corpse lying over a plow.

Collecting his wits, Rohan ran after the bull and challenged him.  'I know who you are! You are Mara. You are Kali. You are the divine Goddess of Death. You manifest these different forms to judge your devotees.' Falling to his knees as a humbled supplicant, Rohan shook with fear in the presence of the deity. The bull pawed the ground and snorted, eager to move on with his work.

'Bless me, Mara!' implored Rohan. 'Please tell me when I will die.'

'That is not for you to know,' answered the bull. 'You must live your life wholly. Death will come after you've used your allotted breaths, and not before.'

'Then, pray tell me how I will die,' pressed Rohan. 'That will help me live a frugal life.'

'You will die in water,' roared the bull as he turned into a caracal and moved stealthily into the brush at river's edge.

Rohan knelt in stunned silence. In less than a moment, he had lost his family but gained a vision of the great Goddess. And he knew what he had to do.  After mourning his wife's death and burning her body at the ghat, he gathered his few belongings and began his journey. Across the flat land of Uttar Pradesh, following the rural roads away from the river, Rohan walked solemnly north, into the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Higher and higher he climbed, through the Ghurati Forest where not a river or lake could be seen. At the palace of Surya Raj, he begged an audience with the king.

Surya was happy to have a teacher for his young son, Prasad, and he welcomed Rohan to his kingdom and court. The king even agreed to Rohan's strange request that he never be asked to go near a river or a lake for any reason.

Years passed and Prasad grew older, stronger and wiser. Soon it was his responsibility to rule the kingdom in place of his aging father. But before he could be crowned king, he needed to go on a pilgrimage to the Ganges, to be purified by the holy river and blessed by her deities.

Rohan refused to accompany Prasad to the Ganges, but King Surya was adamant. 'You are my son's guru, so you must travel to the  holy river for his purification ceremony. You must guide him in his prayers and ablutions." Rohan reminded the king of the promise never to send him to water, but to no avail. At last, Rohan, the Prince, and a retinue of palace guards set out on a pilgrimage of several hundred miles, across mountain passes and deep ravines, through forests and farms. It wasn't until they reached the forked banks of the Ganges at Dharaku that Rohan succumbed to mortal fear.

'I cannot go in the water,' pleaded Rohan when the Prince was preparing for his ritual bath. 'The Goddess Maru told me I would die in water. I must stay on land!  I can guide your prayers from here,' he whined. The Prince would not be moved.

'You are completely safe with me,' chided Prasad. 'I have two dozen soldiers who will protect us. They can make a circle around us, shoulder to shoulder facing out, with weapons at the ready. If anything comes toward us, we will be protected.'

Seeing he had no other option, Rohan slipped into his lungi and moved cautiously toward the river. The Prince stood in the center of his circled soldiers, waiting solemnly in the water for Rohan to join him. The circle parted, then closed, letting the teacher stand beside his lifelong student.

Rohan closed his eyes and invoked the mercy of River Ganga.
The Prince turned into a crocodile and ate him.

North Indian Gharial



Bones




Dog Bones. Inflation Celebration. Moscow, ID 2018



Origins
A shaman drew down the moon and I rose from ancient soil.
Flesh, fur and teeth. To howl, to hunt, fearless in the feral landscape.
Run with me, wildling. Tear the flesh and feed the soul.
Dream with the shaman. Dance with the carver.
Be not what you seem.
Then lie with me in obscurity.

Nan Wright


Dance, Dance, and Pat the Cat

Salt Spring Island
British Columbis, Canada
48.839375 N  123.541250 W

Dappled sun filtered through the frost on my windows as I woke this morning. I huddled in my down comforter, considering the dead coals in the hearth and the wood pile on the porch outside. But I knew I wouldn’t light a fire. I wouldn’t warm this great farmhouse until much later tonight. The old addiction was upon me like a wolf on prey, like wind blowing fire, and I needed to move.

When the voice of nature' spirit  calls me, I have to listen and then answer. As a child I would sit with the trees and small animals, holding conversations like any group of children. These were not imaginary friends because they lived and grew and died like my family and teachers and neighbors. The difference was that nature stood ever-abiding and never duplicitous. It showed me its honest face - both its gentle flowering and fledging disposition and its angry moods of burning, flooding, drying, and blowing. As I grew, I also showed nature all my honest moods - planting trees I would later chop down, trapping birds and bats for research, raping landscapes for building materials. 

Now, thank god, I am old...too old to maintain any aggression toward humans or animals or plants. I give over the breath of my aging spirit to whomever wants me, but most frequently it’s nature calling me back into a forgiving embrace, sharing its secret knowledge like it did when I was an innocent child. When I’m stuck in my head and I cannot write, the rivers call me to their rapids and cool my tired brain in their eddies. When my heart runs hard with unrequited love, it’s the great stone edifice that shows me how to gather my energy and hold fast. And when I acknowledge the inevitable dust-to-dust of my ancient body, it is the vibrant meadows and spring wetlands that promise me regeneration in some future, imagined life. 

Today I woke cold, in a muddle of discontent, trying to ascertain my way forward in an emotional forest with fallen trees across numerous paths. So I accepted the insistence of spirit - as surely as I would any other compulsion - and I went aimlessly out to wander, listening to the invitation of this road and that elevation, this open coast and that copse of firs, this rocky outcrop and that dark mammatus. Being lost kept me in the immediacy of  now, with no consideration for who I was or who I could be. I arrived at last in a great open landscape with a vista across the islands of the Trincomali Channel. There I danced and I cried and I called forth the ancient songs of phenomenal and numinous beings. I breathed deeply the scent of the ancient land, the land that will outlast all my indignities, forgive my foolishness born of smallness and ignorance. Assuage my existential sorrow.

In the late afternoon, with a healed and peaceful heart, I returned to the farm to light the great wood hearth, hug the cat, and sit down to write my dearest friends.

May you all enjoy a warm and peaceful holiday,
All my love,
Nan



L. Pedersen.  Trincomali Channel. Salt Spring Island, BC

Cittavrtti - State of Mind




Elephant by R. Law. Inflation Celebration. Moscow, Idaho 2017


Cittavrtti - State of Mind
The Mahout dreams of his elephant. The Elephant dreams of his freedom.

Ankusha
No houdah now, and no mahout. No circus ring. 
I’m moving out to marsh and field, to kin and kind.
No armored sheath to fight your war. No sharpened tusk.
I’m moving sore toward forest damp, in musth maligned.
I’ll shake the memory of the past, the sorrow
Cast to times endured, not carried blind
Into the wild. The life preferred, the freedom held.
The verdant dreaming of my feral mind.

Nan Wright
2017

Trading Road Stories for a Bowl of Soup

Potlatch
Wherever we've wandered
September, 2017


I know the nomadic people of a thousand past ages have walked the land, been awed by the vistas, and felt the sacred movements of the earth and sky. I am not unique. Even as I travel the roads today, I meet surfers, bikers, hikers - people detached from industry, calling in the quiet ecstasy of union with the natural world. And they are kindred; we know each other in the simplest greeting, by the fire ring, near the river side. We are nomadic by culture or compulsion.

However the purity of my nomadic life may be rooted more in fantasy than reality. Try as I might, it is extremely difficult to ‘leave only footprints’ in my wanderings. Perhaps my body is not as wild as my heart. I follow the trails of my ancestors, singing the gypsy songs. I carry my house on my back although it is heavy for me and requires a stop at nearly every fueling station. Insurance policies, bank statements, tire rotation, veterinary bills, and now a broken foot requiring surgery keep puncturing the balloon of my fantasy, plopping me back to earth for a reality check. Perhaps the ancient nomadic cultures had the equivalent burdens - scaled appropriately for their time and place. Or perhaps my challenges are born entirely from our technological, info-heavy culture to which I will always be a slave.

With this as fodder, I sit back to chew...my broken foot in the air as I await surgery. If you are interested, you will find me at 48.138982  -123.183950 (Sequim) for the next few months.  A camp host needs two feet; I was unable to convince the park I was able to hop and serve. Perhaps when I walk again...I can dream again.  Please bring music, wine, or laughter.  Especially laughter.

All my love,
Nan


 

Shade and Company

Bend, Oregon
Walmart Parking Lot
97 degrees
September, 2017

Smoke from the Idaho fires began to clear as I traveled west from Ontario to Bend, Oregon. I left at dawn, but the long driving hours in the hot sun... fighting the wind, the trucks, the gravel... finally wore me down.  By the time I reached Bend, I simply needed to stop. Walmart showed up before I could find a campground and for once in my life I looked at it with relief. I sought the shade, but the treed side of the lot was filled with high-dollar RVs on sale. So I toured what was left of the parking area until I found a tree in the back corner with only a handful of old trucks and vans around it.

Carl, an emaciated 50-ish fellow stepped forward to guide my rig into the narrow spot. His grizzled face did not prepare me for his soft southern drawl and easy manner.

 "I’m sorry,” I apologized as I invaded the smaller vehicles scattered around me. “I’ve been driving too long and I need some shade.”
 “No problem. It stays cool here all afternoon,” he offered.  Later I’d remember that statement.

 A kid rode over on a bicycle and dropped off a small bag of food from the Safeway across the street. “Thanks, kid,” said John, a stringy fellow parked next to Carl in an old pickup. “Be safe,” they called as the kid rode off. Then they set the food to cook on a small fire hidden on the ground behind John's truck.

On the other side of my rig was a late model Subaru, appearing empty. At one point, the driver’s door opened and Dirk fell out. Literally, fell out, as though dead. Throughout the  evening, I’d get to know Dirk better, but at that point I could see a mass of dreadlocks that were not a style statement, coarse clothing ingrained with dirt, and filthy bare feet. The smell of unwashed body and whiskey wafted across 20 ft between us. He grabbed a purple quilt from the Subaru and laid down on the grass for a long nap.

As my heat-addled brain cooled, I realized I had parked in the shady middle of an indigent camp. None of the people or vehicles would be leaving any time soon. Carl knew that the corner stayed cool because he’d been here for weeks. He’d lost his house in San Francisco when a hit-and-run driver totaled him and his car. By the time he paid medical bills and got a new vehicle, all he had left was the road.  John was quiet but mentioned that his Ford 250 got 7 miles to the gallon. Gabriela - young, pierced and tattooed - hung aimlessly around an ancient Dodge van that had died on the road. Her boyfriend and a couple of the men were trying to fix it. Gabriela’s silver husky lay with Augie, licking his face from time to time. I never figured out what Stevie was doing there; periodically he rode around the parking lot on a skateboard pulled by his pit bull. Marty, a woman my own age, stood on the Walmart street corner with her ‘Anything Helps’ sign...trading off spots with her daughter. Her man, name unknown, nodded once to me like we were friends. I imagined him to be a vet, down on his luck, but perhaps not.

The cops arrived in a black SUV. Carl said they were friendly, usually just said hello and asked if everyone was okay. Sometimes they shook Dirk a couple times until he responded. As we watched, the SUV stopped down the way at a crappy bus painted blue striped. Three men, four women, 2 dogs and assorted puppies climbed out. After quiet discussion, one of the men put his hands on his head and left in a separate police van. Two other city police cruisers rolled through and the striped bus pulled out.

Dirk woke up around dusk and came to sit by the RV where I was writing. Augie nuzzled him like an old friend and I settled in to listen to his story. Others from the camp gathered around. Dirk talked of being a cowboy once, of being a hippy with the Rainbow People, of being an electrician, a plumber, a landscaper, an artist. His age must be like mine, but he’s lived it rough and it shows. He put on shoes, got his filthy pack, then huddled close to show me his treasure...a handful of polished, petrified wood buried under a plastic water bottle of whiskey. I smiled, acknowledged his treasure, knowing I also shared his love of stones. At 9 a lovely lady came out of Walmart wearing her employee’s shirt, kissed Dirk affectionately and trundled him off in her nice Subaru. What a gift, that those two oddly matched people love each other.

And which of life’s mysteries brought me to this tree?  To the many stories I heard today - and the simple kindness of these people who are also wandering, but not by choice - I add my own story. It tells of heart and nature, of friends and loneliness, and always of gratitude. Its moral is that we all find our identity in community, never in isolation. I am richer and fuller as I sleep tonight.

 All my love,
 Nan


Loess Gain and Loss

46.730609 N   116.998909 W
Moscow, Idaho
September, 2017

I crossed the undulating Palouse hills a couple days ago and I’m as amazed by this geography now as I was 25 years ago when I first saw it. It’s harvest time. Staggered lines of combines march across hundreds of miles of wheat and lentil. The most productive agricultural district in the world.

Yet, a place both beautiful and tragic. The ancient bunchgrass prairie now gone entirely to agriculture. Riparian habitat that housed a great diversity of birds now raked naked, dried and planted. I lament the audacity of man to rape an entire natural landscape.

A.Meyer 'Golden Flow'



And I eat my bread and lentil soup, fully aware of the hypocrisy that plagues my environmental opinions.









For the next few days, I’ve planted myself in the garden of my dearest friends, the Hamiltons, feasting on their plentiful fruits and vegetables, canning beans and lemons, wandering through the street market. These are good people - my friends in Moscow - and I’ll be sorry to leave. I find peace in their kindness.. calling back the camaraderie of Blue Mountain and the gift of sharing.

Honey Glider planted in corn, squash, beans, greens and flowers. 


But there are mountains and rivers that call me. Cold nights and warm sunshine on my face. Silence.


All my love to you.
Nan







Mourning with the Help of Newts

Lizard Lake
Somewhere on the Road between
Port Renfrew and Cowitchen Lake
Vancouver Island, B.C.
August, 2017

I dropped my daughter Mook at the airport at 5 am and headed toward Sooke to pick up Maya's ashes.  The fog was deep and by the time I hit the island's southern coastal road, progress was slow. I seemed to be almost the only one on the road, so I rumbled along at my own slow pace. Finally, the fog and the creeping speed and sorrow from Maya's death overwhelmed me, so I pulled to a muddy slur on the road and slept for a few hours.

When I rose - still in a coastal and emotional fog -  I continued to Jordan River where I found nothing except a little coffee stand. I’m not sure how Jordan River can be on a GPS map if there isn’t even a break in the trees, but since I consider coffee to be one of the few sign of civilization, I didn't worry about the lack of roads or signs or human habitation. One silent, unsmiling barista and hot coffee was enough.

From there I followed signs that said I was entering Shirley. That town - or township or forest tract or whatever was actually named Shirley - went on and on and on, but if anyone lived back in the trees, or down on the treacherous overgrown rocky coast, they must have been dark coastal fairies. It didn't matter much to me. I was in no state to be hospitable, so it was good I only saw frogs and forest birds. Even fairies might have found me bad company.

I didn't know why I would cry so much for Maya. Her life had been about as good as any dog could have. So I figured I was crying for myself and my own loneliness without her.  Like me, Aughi is a little unmoored, but he walked with me after his breakfast and dinner, then tucked in for his second or third long nap of the day.  This dying business is hard, I thought...but after all, the real question for us as intentional humans is not about the meaning of life, it's about the meaning of death. We all know what life is about.

Lizard Lake, 2017




















I continued lost after Shirley, then Sooke and then again after Port Renfrew headed up the road up to Cowitchen. I ended up in a little abandoned camp next to Lizard Lake where I can stay for the next two weeks. The lake is strangely named after rough-skinned newts, which are not lizards, but rather salamanders. I know this only because of my friend Chris Gomez and the pond on Blue Mountain. The lizard was the first totem animal that came to provide me guidance during a sorrowful time in my early life, so it's fitting I should have ended up here to mourn Maya. I watch the children pull the newts out of the lake and put them in small jars, carrying them off to someplace a newt never wanted to be. Do you think newts have family and friends that mourn them when they are kidnapped by grubby little hands?

I’ve set up my composting toilet. I have a couple gallons extra water. A little food. Enough dog food. The electronics will fail unless I run the generator, but that will take more vehicle fuel than I can spare.  I wish I had a new book. I'll hike and then sleep.

Thinking of you all...
Love, Nan

Song of Maya (2003-2017)


You came to me a self-made puppy, not a tiny creature waiting to be molded by my will.
            Your puppiness never took shelter in my love,
            Never tucked a small head into my lap or my arms.
            You and I were partners. I never owned you, but you stayed
            near me.
          
Once on a walk, you hung behind to see if I would wait for you, include you.
            I challenged your independence and got in the car, started 
            the motor.
            Then realized you were still watching but not moving, not needy. 
            I stopped and ran to you, rubbed you all over, invited you into my life.
            I said I’d never leave you behind, no matter who you were or what you did.  
           After that, you adopted me.

 You grew strong and lithe
            You were vain and knew you were beautiful. You loved to wear a pretty scarf or necklace.
You laid with your paws out in front of you to show off their lovely markings.
You liked to be groomed.
You loved the camera and would pose for photos.

You woke every morning to lick Aughi’s face and welcome him to the new day.
            You watched him eat his meals and then ate your own.
            You let him chew the meat bones and then accepted what he left.
            This was your kindness to him.

You loved the wildness of camping.  You didn’t want to be inside the tent.
You let Aughi be the near-guard while you were the far-guard.
Your eyes saw everywhere, everything, and also saw me.

You could run fast, but you never chased a ball.
            You would swim, but only to catch shallow fish in your teeth.
            You always liked to dry off on the bed.

When I was sick you would curl up on the bed near my head and watch me.
            You didn’t sleep.
            If I opened my eyes you would be watching me, checking on me.
            If I tried to hold you - if I was needy - you moved away.
            You never accepted weakness.
            But you loved puppies and bunnies.

You were stubborn beyond belief. 
            Your will would not break.
            If restrained, you would wait patiently until you were freed,
            Then return to the mischief that led to restraint.
            If chastised, you would pout until forgiven
            All your mischief somehow being my fault.

You hated rumble strips when we rode in the car
            You’d jump into the front seat and try to hide under the gas pedal
            Failing that, you’d lay across the gear shift box
            Or squish yourself into the foot-well with the groceries.
            Crushing eggs and grapes

You nipped my fingers when I had been gone too long.

You never told me you were sick.
            It was a cold winter and I thought you were depressed.
            Maybe you missed the garden in the old house
            Or Kane and Red
            Or long camping trips, living outdoors.
            You slowed down, but I didn’t know...  I didn’t see.
            I’m sorry.

In the end you laid down gently, put your paws in my hand,
            And closed your eyes.



Thank you for sharing your remarkable life with me.

Police Dogs Monitor Jailbird

49°11'48"N   123°59'31"W
Beban Park, Nanaimo, BC
August 2017

During a random stop in Beban Park, Nanaimo BC, we were approached by a police officer trying to secure a notorious jailbird. She had captured and confined  him in an impromptu jail, then asked if August (left front) could be deputized as a police dog for a photo shoot. Aug was terribly excited; he paced anxiously around the shoot until he was called to face the cameras and bark. (Maya (right) was oblivious of the whole stunt. She just wanted to catch the very live feral bunnies and incarcerate them in her molars.

With the jailbird secured inside the bird house and the deputized dogs in place, the police officer grabbed her (plastic) semi-automatic rifle and called ACTION! Phone cameras went off for several different poses.

Mock RMCP in Costume with Police Dogs August and Maya



















During this time the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) drove through the park paying lukewarm attention to the woman with the plastic gun and police costume. Someone mentioned it was a fund-raising stunt for a charity and the woman pulled off all the fake Police identification labels from the clothes she would promptly return to Wallmart.

We were losing the light and still wanted forest bathing before sleep. We congratulated Aug for achieving two bucket list items - Be a Police Dog and Star in a Dog Movie.- then headed Northwest along the Trans-Canada highway.

Thinking of you all...
Nan

Pastoral Musing

48.760069, -123.698745
Keating Farm - Duncan, BC
August 2017

The larder on this old farm is full -- apples and cider, berries and mead, cheese, flowers, and hanging herbs, venison from the field with Greek spice and yogurt.  I spend the evening filtering gallons of honey from hives to jars. They will last 500 years in the pantries of the manor house. Ancient fruit trees bend down with their gifts while feral animals feast on the leavings. This land has been tamed, released, neglected, abused, then loved and restored by passing generations.

Keating Farm, Duncan B.C. 2017














Cattle Dog - August - is working down his bucket list.
Blind, deaf and arthritic, he circles the farm perimeter until he finds the pasture.
With all his failing might he herds the cattle down the fence line toward the barn.
The massive bull turns and snorts with umbrage; the cow and calf watch in alarm.
Then, satisfied with himself, August shuffles back to the shadowed porch for a little nap, oblivious of the thundering hooves that want to stomp him into the ground. 

The Journey
One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and began...

It was already late enough,
and a wild night, and the road full of fallen
branches and stones...

But little by little, as you left their voices behind,
The stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice which you slowly
recognized as your own, that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,

Determined to do the only thing you could do --
Save the only life you could save.

[Excerpts from Mary Oliver]

Of Snakes and Rocks and Rivers


48.580249 N  120.624967 W
Okanagan NF, Washington

Traveling across the northern Cascade Mountains on Rt. 20 is like riding the back of a serpent, writhing and curling through forests and valleys, the wind of its momentum whipping your insignificant vehicle one way or another to force you off a cliff should you be distracted by any of a hundred gorgeous views. The mountains are rigidly steep, dressed only with a few burnt trees from fires past. Some are naked altogether, save the reds and greens of ancient igneous rock.

Unknown Okanagan Peak
Despite the white-knuckle drive of the past hundred miles, my mind was preoccupied by shapes and patterns in nature. Sinuous rivers called me back to a time I housed and cared for snakes. I didn’t love them, but I did need to manage my fear of them

On the bank of the muddy-gray Nooksack, I woke one morning thinking about a lazy Black Snake I had that grew to 5 ft but couldn’t be bothered to catch a live rat, requiring his food to be well clobbered. Another morning, the sweet Grandy Creek reminded me of a colorful Mexican Corn Snake that was always busy hunting, climbing, hiding - fun to watch, but never touch. The Grandy was a noisy little creek, bubbling over bright colored river rock with children splashing in her pools. Finally the deep green Skagit River, every bit as powerful and placid as a 16 ft. Python who required 8 people to lift him into his arial compound.

In the long drive through the Cascades, I wondered at the sinuous river of life, sometimes roiling with good fortune and other times barely flowing around the obstacles. I particularly like the eddies, where space and time cast  me into spiraling intimacy with people, animals, forests, homes, and chaos. In eddies I find my best friends and happiest moments. Then a storm, usually born of my own restless mind, floods the eddy and sends me back into the flow, as I am now.

When I remember, I’m collecting rocks for Tom - marking each bag with relevant coordinates.

I’m heading east. Then perhaps south. The days are clear and beautiful, but winter is coming.

I miss you all.
Nan

Visiting Artists