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Raven Mistress — Chapter Two

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“Mine?” Ella asked. “How can they say it’s my fault? Today’s my first day and I haven’t even started yet.”

“They’re saying the ravens have rejected you. That they’ve left the Tower because they won’t allow you to feed them. Ella, you’d better get here fast. The Warders are saying that the king and Parliament will have to be informed. What are you going to do?” Bran asked.

“I’m going to start as I mean to go on,” Ella responded. “Buy me some time; I’ll be there as soon as I can, but I can’t skip the magic and I have to go buy their meat.” She turned off her cell and unplugged the computer.

Ella sat down. Every fiber of her being wanted to run madly to the Tower, begin to look for the birds, show that she was on top of things. But she’d been training for this job all her life and she knew that skipping the magic would only cause more trouble. And there was no way she’d be able to do her work at the Tower, where everyone would be running about in confusion, trying to find the birds, put off the tourists’ questions, angling for position. She began the breathing exercises she’d learned as a child: slow, steady breaths, each group of five slower than the group before. Gradually, although it took longer than it normally did, her heartbeat slowed, her muscles relaxed, her concentration grew. She recited the chant for a Dark Moon May 1st, which her father had hummed to her in her cradle, and sung to her every time since then. “Remember, Ella,” he’d say. “You must remember.”

“I am Ella and I fly with the blackest bird. The blackest bird flying under the Darkest Moon this Beltane Day, as my family has done, down all the dark years before me. I fly with the ravens, the dark birds, dark as the soil that grows the grain. I fly with the ravens, the dark birds, dark as the deep sea that brings forth the fish. I fly with the ravens, the dark birds, dark as the bedchamber that brings forth the child. I fly with the ravens, the dark birds, dark as the thunderclouds that bring forth the rain. I fly with the ravens, the dark birds, dark as the magic of England’s Witches. I fly with the ravens, the dark birds, dark as England’s fate if the the birds ever leave. I am Ella and I fly with the blackest bird so that the ravens will never leave and The Land will stay. My wings will not falter.”

Ella felt her own body grow lighter and lighter and, in her mind’s eye, she saw herself sitting inside the hidden room at the Tower, relaxed, wrapped in a giant cloak of black feathers — one from every raven who’d ever lived at the Tower. Her feet grew into claws and dug tightly into the ancient alder branch hung from the ceiling. And suddenly, she was in flight, slipping through the bars of the tiny window, soaring up into the wind.

“I need to find a raven,” Ella thought. “A raven who has a reason to talk.” Ella soared over bridges, looking at their undergirding for nests. She flew over cliffs, peering into outcroppings for old birds sunning themselves and preening in the Beltane sun. She scanned telephone poles and microwave towers and then, just like that, she saw him. He was huge, a strong, young male with glossy blue-black feathers. Not quite an adult, no longer a juvenile. He was playing an ancient crow game, taking off from the branches of a giant willow on the bank of the Thames, dropping a stick, and catching it mid-flight. Each time, he cawed with delight and flew back to the top of the tree.

Ella dove, grabbed the stick, and flew to a willow branch so low that it dipped into the Thames. “I have your stick and I have your name,” she told the bird, remembering the story of Bran the Blessed. “You’re Gwern and you’re going to tell me where the Tower Ravens have gone.”

“Thief!” the bird yelled, landing a branch above. “Thief and thief again! You’ve stolen my stick and stolen my name. Why should I tell you anything, you human who is not a bird and you bird who is not a human? Halfthing of the dark, I wouldn’t tell you that water is wet or that the air is full of currents.”

“No?” Ella asked. “OK. Fair enough. I think you don’t know. But I’ll find somebird that does. And a bird smart enough to know where the Tower Ravens are would probably like a bonny stick, good size, easy to toss and easy to catch.” She spread her wings as if to take off from the branch.

“Wait!” the young bird yelled. “Wait! Don’t give away my stick. I found it; it’s mine. I’ll tell you this: You’ll find the Tower Ravens when you find a fire that does not burn. Now give me back my stick!”

Ella flapped to the highest branch, dropped the stick, flew towards Earth, and caught it. Lightly, she threw it to the young male. “May your nest be full of chicks,” she laughed. “Thank you Gwern. Stay away from your uncles.”

“Bah,” the glossy bird said. “What would you know when you don’t even know where your own ravens have gone? My uncles love me.”

Ella soared again. “A fire that does not burn,” she mused. And, then, she saw the helicopters hovering over the Tower.

Picture found here.

Spring!

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It’s finally, really, truly Spring! The picture above shows one of my Japanese maples leafing out in the woodland garden, just beside a Japanese temple pine and an old acuba.

Today, on Twitter, @selenafox shared this lovely video:

Hail Flora! Hail Persephone! Hail the Maiden!

Here, in the Magical MidAtlantic, we’ve been acknowledging Spring ever since Eostara, but it’s only this week that it’s felt as if the trees really went green, the pointy things (hostas, jack-in-the-pulpits, lilies, toad lilies, and ferns like flames) began to emerge from underground, and the birds began to join my morning meditation. (In the Winter, I have coffee, silence, and what Dylan Thomas called the “close and holy darkness.” In the Spring, I have coffee, growing light, birdsong — what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “Lo! Morning at the brown brink eastward springs! And [Sophia] over the bent world broods with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings.”)

Here, hat tip to @allisonlily, is another lovely meditation on Spring:

Then I see it, my special spot, the birch trees about to burst open their buds, everything hanging in anticipation. Narcissus flower everywhere underneath the white boles, running down through the patch of woodland that hides the stream from prying eyes. Spots of yellow, like little suns, laugh and smile as they stretch towards our nearest star.

I walk beneath the birch trees, looking at the fox den and rabbit holes. I find my place, a clear space of ground and here I put down my bag. Looking around me, there are branches everywhere as the recent winds of springtime have brought many down. I gather some up, together with pieces of flint and quartz that lie upon the mossy earth. I make my circle of sticks and stones, and smile at the thought.

Lighting the incense, I walk around the circle several times, then place it carefully upon a bare patch of earth. I take my bottle of water and allow a thin stream of water to bless this sacred space. Standing at the four directions I honour them for all that they are. Within the centre I recognise and remind myself of the three worlds: land, sea and sky. I use the ritual gestures that I have created over the years to emphasize my words, to bring them into action. I breathe in the air, filled with the scents of spring, face the stream and call to my goddess.

“Lady of the sacred flame. Lady of the sacred water. Where fire and water meet is the greatest power. I honour you with all that I am, for all that you are. Lady of healing, lady of transformation, lady of poetry, lady of creativity. Show me your mysteries. I open my soul to you, to hear your song.”

A wave of energy comes towards me, nearly knocking me off my feet. I balance, and turn around, knowing that there is incense behind me. I move carefully around the incense, walking as if through treacle or dark, sticky molasses. I need to lie down. The Earth is pulling me down, down into her mysteries. Carefully I lower myself to the ground, a pair of hawks overhead crying as they circle, riding the thermals.

I close my eyes. The earth thrums beneath me, the sky singing above me. I hear it. I hear The Song.

The entire post is worth a read.

Here are a few more pictures from my garden: here in the shadow of Columbia, in the State named for the Maiden, in a spot where I’ve done magic for over a decade, in the place where the great-great-many-times-great granddaughter of the tarragon that I planted is sprouting in the herb bed, where the great grandson of my first cardinal shows up when I’m brewing coffee and demands that I put out seed with which he can court his lady, where, just now, the gentle rain is making the grass so green it would make your heart ache.

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May it be so for you.

A Thought for Thursday

Unknown

Picture found here.

Abraham Lincoln Died 150 Years Ago Today

Race is still the rock upon which America is most likely to flounder.  

Tuesday Poetry Blogging: There Is Only One Question

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Spring

~ Mary Oliver

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

Picture found here.

Monday at the Movies

You know, there are lots of movies about gardening.

Mysogony Watch: That’s How Not It Goes

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So a number of people have linked to this article about Ms. Clinton’s campaign. I agree with some of the points that Rebecca Traister makes. For example, she does a good job articulating a point with which I’ve struggled. Friends keep saying that they wish that our choice weren’t between another Clinton and another Bush and I even agree, but something has nagged at me every time this has come up. Ms. Traister nails this:

For generations, the primary path to power for women with any political ambitions (and even some without them) was through those who came to political power easily: men, usually husbands. This has been especially true of “first” women in American politics: The first woman governor, Wyoming’s Nellie Tayloe Ross, was elected in 1925 to replace her husband after his death. The first woman elected to the Senate was Hattie Wyatt Carraway, who filled the Arkansas seat of her dead husband in 1931. Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who took her late husband’s House seat in 1940, went on to become senator and the first woman ever to have her name placed into nomination for the presidency at a major party’s convention.

It was practically preordained that the first woman to come close to a major party nomination, if not to become the first female president, was going to have family ties to a man with executive branch experience.

That doesn’t make Hillary’s current political position dynastic in the way that, say, Jeb Bush’s is. There are big differences between being born into a position of political privilege and marrying someone who becomes politically powerful. Wives have historically provided the support to make presidents’ careers possible; no dynastic configuration has ever landed one in the Oval Office herself.

Last month, The New York Times ran a fascinating and distressing look at the statistical probability of paternal succession in presidential politics, as well as in sports, business, and entertainment. The economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz found that, based on recent history, “an American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy” and that it is “8,500 times more likely a senator’s son” will become a senator himself.

But based on historical precedent, here is how likely it is for a president’s wife to become president herself: zero times more likely. It’s never happened before.

So while it is fair to feel critical of the advisors, strategies, and policies deployed by both Hillary and Bill Clinton during the years they have each wielded political power, it is not fair or accurate to suggest their familial circumstances are equivalent to those of the Bushes, the Roosevelts, the Adamses, the Kennedys, or the Cuomos. If you want to compare them to the Tayloe Rosses, the Wyatt Carraways, or the Chase Smiths, that’s cool. But it doesn’t pack quite the same punch. And that’s part of the point.

That’s it. That’s the difference between being born a Bush and becoming a Clinton, between how men use their families to obtain power and how it works for women.

But here’s where Ms. Traister goes right off the rails:

I hope we can get over the conviction that every time someone notices what Hillary’s wearing, it’s diminishing.

Like it or not, clothes and appearance are part of how political candidates communicate. Self-presentation is tightly tied to electability, and men are not let off the hook. Ask Barack Obama about his mom jeans, John Edwards about being dubbed “The Breck Girl,” John Kerry about his Botox injections. It’s far more instructive to break down the nuances of how appearance is critiqued and not just the reality that it’s going to be.

For example: All those instances of men being teased for their looks involve them being feminized! That’s the part that’s interesting … and sexist. When debate questions about child health care policies and the storage of radioactive waste get rejected in favor of one about whether Hillary prefers diamonds or pearls? That’s sexist. And when an opponent, asked to name one positive and one negative about Hillary, compliments her husband as the positive and rags on her jacket as the negative? Well, that’s John Edwards, keeping it repellent since 2008.

But simply noting that Hillary is wearing some fetching shade of teal? Acknowledging that her wardrobe choices must account for the fact that she has cleavage, something vanishingly few of her predecessors have had to tackle? That’s not inherently sexist, no matter what her campaign tells you in an effort to draw your outraged support.

An honest reckoning with the unique aspects of dressing like a woman on a trail built for men has its own value and its own genuine pleasures. One of my favorite memories of covering 2008 is a Clinton rally in Pennsylvania with my two-year-old nephew in tow. We were standing miles from the podium, and when Hillary came on stage, clad head to toe in some raspberry number, my nephew clapped joyously, exclaiming: “Elmo!” That was great. We’d never before had a candidate who wore anything other than greys and browns, a candidate who might reasonably be mistaken for Elmo. It was funny; it was giddy; it was its own kind of history.

Look, it shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but talking about a man’s appearance is NOT the same as talking about a woman’s appearance. It’s not the same thing to call a white man “boy” as it is to call a black man “boy.” It’s not the same thing and if you don’t get that, then you are part of the problem.

For women, the constant pressure to conform to a very narrow, largely unrealistic, and schizo-damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t set of physical appearance and clothing stereotypes is a huge part of what’s wrong with our society. You’re too sexy, you’re too matronly, you’re too [just fill in the blank.] Sure, saying that President Obama wore “mom jeans” wasn’t a compliment, but it’s completely different from talking about what a woman wears and doesn’t even begin to police his behavior in the way that talking about what women wear, rather than what they say or do, polices women.

Reading, hearing, and being subject to what others say about a woman’s appearance creates daily microaggressions against that woman. Over time, the stress does do damage. And the message sent to other women is that they’d better not be ambitious, else they, too, will be subject to daily criticism over what they wear, how they look, what size they are, how they appear to the male gaze.

And, you know, fuck that shit. When G/Son was a baby and we’d tease him by saying a nursery rhyme wrong, he’d say, “That’s how not it goes!” When you report on black men, don’t call them boys. When you report on women candidates, report on their positions. Reporting on what they wear or how they look is how not it goes.

Picture found here