Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Instagram-Worthy Nature of Nature

            Two days ago I went for a walk in my favorite park. I did this for a couple of reasons. I desperately needed some “green therapy” as I call it, despite the 20-some degree temperatures. I needed to reach out to nature and feel its magic around me. Also, quite honestly, I knew that a walk in the woods would provide some beautiful photos for my Instagram account.     
            Ah Instagram, the double-edged sword. I am quite fond of, and active on, this social media site because my desire to constantly update it helps me to keep an eye open in my daily life for little things that are beautiful and enchanted. Instagram is a catalyst to get me moving, get me creating, get me out into nature. But a lot of people talk about the other edge of the sword of Instagram: how it can pull you into an obsessive self-doubt, comparing yourself to more popular Instagram personalities who constantly post stunning images and garner thousands of likes on their images. How it can make you doubt your life, worry that your experiences aren’t “special” enough, your face isn’t pretty enough to gain more followers.
            However, that’s not the particular second-edge of the sword that I’ve been pondering lately. I’ve been thinking instead about what it’s like to have an experience in nature and also try to document it for social media.

            The sorts of profiles I love on Instagram show a beautiful combination of lush and unique nature and architecture, but also include photos of the individual, usually a woman, interacting with what she experiences. Shots of a redhead in a beautiful medieval gown or a charmingly whimsical Mori girl ensemble walking along the path ahead of the camera, trees arching overhead to either direction; a graceful hand reaching out to grasp the knob of a heavy wood door with iron hinges, the start of a story. A woman’s face, pressed against the moss of a forest floor, inviting us to imagine the green softness under our own cheek. Instagram photos are most successful to me when they combine magical locations and items with the feeling of being there, of imagining ourselves, for a moment, in this amazing life they’ve shared. The more sensory the image the better.
            But at what cost?

            Let me give you an example. The park I went to two days ago for my wanderings is my favorite. It’s located about ten minutes from my house, down a winding and hilly rural road. There’s just one small tiny sign along the road that declares “park entrance,” and a metal gate that’s locked after dark. I’ve spoken to people who live on this very road and have no idea the park is even there. Wander down a meadow pathway, and you come to a forest with a path that veers in two directions. You can choose to walk the circular forest path deosil (clockwise) and take the left path, or wander it widdershins (counterclockwise) and take the right path. I always, every single time, go widdershins. But this time I felt like trying something new, so I walked deosil down the left path.
Familiar landmarks were at once unfamiliar, coming at them from a different direction. I walked through the part of the trail that feels the most sacred to me, an area where I always feel something (faeries, I suspect) watching me as I walk by, where old and twisted hawthorn trees with no leaves stand guard in a circle around the pathway. But on this day, I decided to rest my phone with its tripod in one of the twisted and beautiful hawthorns and take a short video for Instagram of me wandering the woods off the path. As I started the video, I heard many crows calling a warning loudly nearby, and I definitely sensed a presence quietly observing my actions. The tripod was sturdy, but it tipped over as I tried to take a video twice. The third time I was successful, but I felt there was a lack of respect or awe about what I had done. It didn’t feel right.

One of the Hawthorn trees in my park. Note the dusting of snow and quiet skies.
I took my phone out of the tree, and returned to the path to head back to my car. As soon as I walked out of the circle of hawthorn trees, the snow started falling thick around me. By the time I had walked to the part of the path with taller thinner trees, it was coming down in a squall of giant white flakes, and the entire world around me was white. I got the message. I deleted the video. I apologized. And I received a reminder that magic is real, and can conjure up a sudden snow storm when disrespected. 

A few moments later.
A nervous smile for the camera as the snow fell

           This experience was humbling, and it also got me thinking about how sometimes the process of trying to get that perfect shot of yourself interacting with nature can cause you to actually disrespect nature. Of course there are extreme examples of this, like people acting irreverent or damaging sacred sites. But I also am thinking of smaller moments and experiences. For instance, one of my favorite subjects in Instagram photos: a lovely female hand suspended above a bed of moss or the forest floor, holding a plucked mushroom cradled in her palm. I love mushrooms and their iconography in whimsy and fairy lore. I love the presence of a human in my photos. These photos have always delighted me when they come across my feed. But it wasn’t until I tried to recreate this photo with a gorgeous specimen in my back yard that I realized…you have to pull the mushroom from the ground to take this photo. And then what? If you aren’t actually familiar with mycology and picking the mushrooms to eat or use, you just cut off its life cycle for the purpose of that perfect Instagram photo. I felt terrible. I tried to tuck it back in the ground, but of course it shriveled up the next morning. 

            I thought about that mushroom photo as I walked around another forest yesterday. I had brought one of my favorite pieces of labradorite to Blackhand Gorge, a beautiful nature preserve near my house, as an apology for my behavior the previous day. I left the stone tucked behind a bed of moss near a fallen tree, and as an extra apology, sang an old nature ballad into a hole in the ground near the edge of a cliff. I took a few photos, and a video, but I spent most of my time on the trail that day with my phone tucked deeply into a pocket, just watching, observing. Two deer darted away from my quiet steps, their white tails bobbing back and forth through the latticework of trees. The crows called out overhead. And I was fully present. Because what good is a record of your life, on Instagram or elsewhere, if you only live it to document it? Even though there’s nothing wrong with taking out your phone to capture magical beauty in nature, it’s also ok sometimes to just sit with it, feel it, and experience it. A balance is necessary. Otherwise all you’re left with is a curated feed simulating reality, instead of an actual life. And eventually, magic will simply pass you by. 

A moss being I encountered on my second day of walking the woods

Friday, November 25, 2016

Small Mythic Business Saturday

A few years ago I did a blog post called Black Friday Done a Verdant and Mythic Green, recommending small businesses and artists to support during this holiday season instead of supporting big box stores. Most of the businesses I featured are still in business, creating incredible works of original magic. I recommend you read both this new post and the original post when deciding on gifts this holiday.


The Changeling's Closet: Original art, photography, and adornments by Liselotte Eriksson.

Imago Photography: Kimberly Tabor does beautiful landscape, animal, and personal photography.

Mythic Art by Alexandra Dawe: Original watercolour and pencil art inspired by myth, folklore and faerytales.

Enchanted Oaks: Gorgeous fine-art sculpted dolls and figurines by Rachel Oakes. 

Midsummers Night Masquerade: Handcrafted Fantasy items for the whimsical at heart. 

Ironwood Wolves: Have you ever wanted to meet or take photos with a wolf or fox? Ironwood is an educational facility that offers such services, along with photograph prints of their stunning animals taken by photographer Rachel Lauren.

Personal Adornments

Minou Bazaar: Indian and Global inspired handmade jewelry by Meenoo Mishra.

Ashes of Roses Designs: Jewelry and other personal items by Brittany Warman.

Elemental Heart Jewelry and Art: Beautiful original pieces!

Faeryspell Creations: Costumes, fashion, and jewelry from Jennifer Mata.

Silvan Arts: Unique Artisan Crafted Nature Inspired Silver Jewelry by Anne Marie Bottcher.

Titania's Tea Party: Jewelry inspired by folklore, fairytales, nature and history. 

Lady Gigglemug: Victorian fairytale treasures.

Lumina Noctis: The finest handmade perfumes, botanicals, and art.


Priestess & Hierophant Press: Publishers of speculative works.

Carterhaugh School of Folklore & The Fantastic: Looking for something to trigger inspiration and imagination during the cold and dreary early months of next year? Sign up for folklorists Brittany Warman and Sara Cleto's full course on the fairy tale.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Whimsy of Straw Finials

Photo by Rachel Oakes

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through my friend Rachel Oakes' photos she had taken on a recent jaunt to a small British village, and I paused when I came across one photo.  "Is that a peacock on the roof??" I asked, surprised.  She explained that it was actually a straw sculpture on the thatched roof, known as a straw finial.  We continued in conversation as she explained that such things were quite common in the villages around her.  Meanwhile I was positively glowing with glee to find something so utterly charming, whimsical, and magical. 

I knew all of you would enjoy them too.

According to an excellent write-up on the tradition at this link, the tradition originated from small straw sculpts on top of hayricks and straw stacks.  Taking the form of birds, crosses, crowns, boats, apples, and more, the ornaments were, at least according to some, supposed to be a friendly way to show which hayrick belonged to whom. 

Folklore also suggested that the straw sculptures could ward of witches and birds.  The witches were given "something to play with, thus diverting her attention from making mischief elsewhere."

Although the earliest examples of decorative straw finials date to 1689, it's still easy to find artists making these organic ornaments today.  Below are a few of my favorite examples I was able to find online.
















Monday, March 16, 2015

Have Courage and Be Kind

A few years ago, artistic visionary and director Tim Burton debuted his version of the classic fairy tale-esque story, Alice in Wonderland.  It was released by Disney, and it was a visual feast of glorious surreality.  By all rights, I should have loved it, but something always stuck in my craw when I thought about the way it had been done.  Finally one day, watching the movie again, it dawned on me what the problem was.  The Alice of Tim Burton's movie is a thoroughly modern young woman, who is confident and independent, and who never once throughout the entire movie ever says thank you to anyone who helps her

A few months ago, Disney released another film, this time a movie version of the musical Into the Woods.  Once again it was gorgeous and well done, but it bothered me that there was not one character in the entire movie who I felt was "good."  Everyone showed selfishness, greed, or a lack of conviction.  And in many cases, those negative qualities caused harm or death to other more innocent people.  (As you can tell, I hadn't seen the stage musical in quite some time or I might have been better prepared for such a dreary tale)

Why do I mention all this?  Because this weekend I went to go see Disney's newest live-action fairy tale, Cinderella.  I went into it expecting to adore it, and I left even more thrilled and satisfied than I ever had hoped I would be.  I suppose this is the point at which I need to say "spoiler warning" for those who haven't seen the film yet, although really, who doesn't ultimately know what the story of Cinderella is going to include?  But still, I will be mentioning a few details from the film, so...spoilers.

Cinderella is the best role model of a good-hearted individual that I've seen in the movies for years.  My husband can confirm to you that from the first time I saw the first trailer, posted above, I immediately became a Pavlov's dog when I heard the words her mother said to her...

...and would immediately begin a sniffling cry.  I don't entirely know why these words mean so much to me, but they do.  They seem to beautifully sum up exactly what it means to be a good person.  Kindness.  My goodness (literally).  What an old-fashioned quality that is entirely at odds with the priorities of modern life and modern society!  Selfishness and greed are devastatingly rampant.  In schools, students are being taught that there are no moral absolutes.  And each generation seems to be more and more "me me me" and less aware of the concept of common courtesy.

In the film, Cinderella doesn't just generally flit around in an airy fairy way, grinning, giggling, and being sweet as cherry pie.  She undergoes real trials, real hardships, and shows the true meaning of selflessness and kindness through those times.  There are several moments in the film when Cinderella specifically shows these qualities.  A few that stood out to me were...

-When an employee of her father's comes to tell the family that her father has passed away.  Cinderella is clearly devastated and heartbroken.  But before she closes the door, she pauses and looks at the man, saying "I'm so sorry.  This must have been very hard for you."  (paraphrased from memory) Even in a moment of absolute pain, she still finds the time to sympathize with another person.

-When Cinderella is frantically running to her carriage from the ball, she bumps into the king, bows, and starts to run, but then stops for a moment to say "your son loves you very much, you know.  You must be a wonderful father." (again, paraphrased from memory)

-When Cinderella has just received her cruel nickname from her stepsister, and been told by her stepmother that she has no place at their table, she bolts from the house to a wild horseback ride through the woods, clearly in emotional tumult.  She stops when she sees a flawlessly ethereal and beautiful stag, no more than five feet from her mount.  Hearing hunting horns in the distance, she pleads with the stag to run, and sets off through the forest beside the hunters, pretending to be out of control of her horse, when really she is anything but.  Once again, she sets aside her emotions in the moment to help someone else.

The point is...being good and being kind are not just a coat we can put on when life is easy or we feel like it.  It is a habit we grow into day to day.  For Cinderella, her parents taught her from an early age to care about the well-being of other people and creatures.  It was a habit learned over many years, until it became a natural reaction in most cases.

But sometimes, it was harder to be kind.  Under those circumstances, Cinderella had to draw upon her courage.  It took courage to stand up to her stepmother and still try to go to the royal ball after she was told she would not be attending.  It took courage, more generally, to stay in that household and be bossed around simply because she wanted to protect and care for the home that her parents had loved so dearly.

There is an every day kind of courage, the kind that tells us to keep going, keep moving in our lives even when things seem most dire.  Cinderella had no expectations to meet a prince on the day she saved the stag in the forest.  She had no expectations to find the prince again on the night she went to the ball.  She did these things because she was kind, and because she was courageous.  But I want to believe, no, I need to believe, that the universe is not fully random: that courage and goodness and kindness are somehow rewarded over avarice and greed and selfishness.  Cinderella's great message is that this is indeed true.

Sometimes, life is not a fairy tale.  The movie version of Cinderella is utterly and totally beautiful, a multi-faceted gem from beginning to end.  Even the death scenes in the film are graceful and pure, sanitized for an audience of wide-eyed children.  Sometimes life and death can be uglier than the film represented.  But that doesn't change the importance of the message, or its truth for our lives, no matter how ugly or messy they can become.

Yesterday morning, after going to see the film the night before, my husband and I went out to the store to buy a doll of Cinderella in her ball gown (the most beautiful gown I've ever seen on the screen, fyi).  We were driving from the toy store to the grocery store to do our weekly shopping, and when we exited the highway, my heart went from elated and happy to devastated and broken.  On the exit ramp was the large body of a Canadian goose, hit and killed by a passing car.  That was heartbreaking enough to see, but standing to the side of the road, confused and trying to protect its partner, was a second Canadian goose.  They mate for life, you know.  I immediately burst into anguished tears, and could hardly see to drive to the store.  When we pulled in, I called the local police department to see if they would move the animal's body from the road.  That was the responsibility of the Department of Wildlife, we were told, which was only open Monday through Friday.

We finished our shopping, but neither of us could stand the idea of leaving the animal there.  We went back to the exit after picking up a shovel in our garage, and moved the bird from the road to the ravine by a small creek right beside the exit, but far enough away to give them privacy.  My husband held the shovel, but he needed me to shift the bird onto there.  I could hardly see through my sobs as I gently moved its weight onto the plastic scoop.


It was a moment of pure heartbreak.  There was nothing beautiful or redeeming about it.  It was utterly and totally gut-wrenchingly terrible.  Tom held me while I cried afterward, and he whispered "thank you for having courage and being kind." 

Because that's what I believe in.  Have courage, and be kind.  No matter how beautiful life can be, or how ugly and terrible, that's what can sustain us.  A simple and old-fashioned concept, one easily scorned.  But there are indeed moral absolutes, and in my opinion, kindness is one of the most important. 

Have courage, and be kind.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mythic March Monday Makings - Week 1 (Sort Of?)

Last week was the first week of Mythic March, but I felt pretty silly doing a Monday Makings update last Monday when the calendar date was only March 2nd.  So this is the first Monday Makings.

How have I been doing with Mythic March?  Weeeeelll truth be told, not so well.  We had a pretty big house emergency come up last Tuesday, right around the time I had hoped to start on a project, and it took all of our focus away from anything creative or non-urgent.  Basically, it's like they say in this blog post, about falling in love with your home again despite its imperfections:

"But alas, owning an old house isn’t always as romantic as it sounds. Trust me on that. With character and age come many expected and unexpected updates and repairs. You dream of decorating and furnishing that lovely old home, but in reality your money might go to exciting things like new sewer pipes, roofs, and electrical panels." 

The blog article includes this little image, which made me giggle out loud when I saw it. 

It's true...roof repairs might not look pretty on Pinterest, but sometimes you have to have priorities!

It appears that my situation might be in hand now, so I can hopefully start working on some projects.  I have a couple of commissioned drawings to do for friends, and I'm hoping before the end of the month that I might also have time to resume work on an artwork I started years ago, before I had even started on the Twelve Dancing Princesses dining room, actually.  I set it aside to work on the dining room, and never got around to it.  I hope to complete that unfinished project, or at least start working toward that end, in March.

So what has everyone else been doing for Mythic March so far? 

My friend Brittany Warman started out Mythic March by making some gorgeous jewelry pieces.  I love how full of mystery and symbolism these pieces are!

Stephanie PiƱa of Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood blog fame wrote a marvelous post on the persistence of myth, and another on the use of armor in Ned Burne-Jones' paintings, both posts inspired by Mythic March. 

So what about you?  I'd love to see what you're working on.  Hopefully you've made a better start of it than I have!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Brimstone Rhine - A Mythic March Pre-Share

So Mythic March hasn't even quite officially begun, but I have a great project to share with you all that won't wait.

My friend and extremely talented writer, C.S.E. Cooney has started an Indiegogo campaign for a new project that hits all the marks.  It's creative, it's unique, it's mythic, and it's definitely interstitial. 

I'll let her describe it to you.

Basically, Brimstone Rhine has two EPs worth of music. The first is called Alecto! Alecto!, eight songs about women of Greek myth and legend as you've never heard them sung. Medea, Medusa, Alecto, Dido, Lysistrata, Calypso, Scylla and Circe: they're all there, each bright-lit under the spotlight she always deserved. Every song assumes its own musical genre, including blues, calypso, rock, waltz, lit-hop, and cabaret.

The second EP is called The Headless Bride. This is a darker journey into carnival-noir-weirdo territory. These eight songs lean hard toward rock and even (gasp!) go a bit METAL at times. But we also have a creepy trad folk tune about a ghost (you know, the eponymous "Headless Bride" herself), and a few more waltzes about beautiful monsters who like to eat people. Oh, and there's a nautical dirge. I call it "Kenning Song, or The Barrow Brine." Get it? Ha! Oh, also there's a VERY naughty nursery rhyme! 

 Sounds pretty amazing to me!  I have her book of poetry, and loved every poem in it, so I can't wait to hear what she comes up with for these albums.  She also is part of a group of women who perform songs at various conventions and events.  They are known as the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours.  How's that for a name?  Love it!  Point being, she is no new hand at writing songs and performing them either. 

It's a great fun project to support, and I hope you consider chipping in whatever amount you can toward her goal!

Click here to view her Indiegogo page and watch her video explaining the project.