Renewing The Story

Spring returns to the island.

Teeny tiny whorls of Cleavers (but they have been teeny tiny all winter)

Child-nettles flinging upward — I swear, growing an inch a day!

Long fingers of yellow-green starred with purple-red catkins, a dangle of worms from — which tree? A nibble reveals that immediate dryness–the complete astringency of Red Alder. A quick check on friend Web confirms what my taste buds and body already know.

Oh, and the resinous Cottonwood buds! The windstorm of a few days ago helps me here. So easy to walk along the road and begin this year’s harvest, walking a harvest with friends that took place four–or is it now five?–years ago.

I’m waking up with the land, stretching my arms after a long sleep punctuated by fevered dreams, restless awakenings, sun-dapple imaginings.

As I drive down the long stretch of Cove Road, as straight and tall and probably in some form, just as old
as the Western Red Cedar I leaned against only minutes before, I feel the strong straight connection,

old home with new

It’s like picking up that book once more, finding my place, taking up the threads of story that have crisscrossed and wandered and played about in the wind. The plants and I make medicine.

The Shortest Day

Newbery Award-winning children’s author  Susan Cooper and her The Dark Is Rising sequence deeply influenced my youth into adulthood.  I may very well owe the fact that I’m a bardic harper to the way her stories echoed within the myth of my soul!  You can read more about my journey with The Dark Is Rising series in my article, “An American Harper In Wales”, first published in The Folk Harp Journal, and now beautifully displayed on

Years later, when I’d begun to celebrate the Winter Solstice, and was performing Celtic Christmas concerts, I discovered the poem below, written by Susan Cooper for (I believe) The Christmas Revels, a magnificent community-based production that celebrates the ancient and mythic roots of many of the season’s folk traditions. I love this poem, and hope you enjoy it too!

Loom Of Trees – photo by Jane Valencia

The Shortest Day

by Susan Cooper

So the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!



Musing On Self-Directed Higher Learning (and revisiting my Folk College)

Browsing some saved bookmarks I rediscovered Zero Tuition College. Basically this website presents the concept of pursuing the goals of a four-year college education via various carefully considered self-directed means.   I love the ideas here, plus the support here for students of “Zero Tuition College”.  I’m reminded of my own self-directed program of study, via my invented Forest Halls Folk College.   I think Zero Tuition College carries my concept further, presenting the idea of creating a portfolio of study as part of packaging one’s learning into “deliverables”–concrete examples of the work you’ve done, so that others (including potential employers or even graduate programs) can understand what you have accomplished.

I love higher learning, and I loved college, but I can’t justify its standing as a sacred cow in our culture.  You need a four-year-degree to get a good job … to be highly educated … to … whatever.   To be, these days, in incredible debt (and your parents too).    I believe that for the most part, you can obtain the same results (or better) using one’s own initiative.  And I’m delighted that there is some support for this kind of self-directed learning.  I’m absolutely sure that more support will emerge in the near future.

Don’t get me wrong–if you want to go to college, or your kids want to–that’s fine!  I just think it’s more than time to reevaluate one’s choices in the area of higher education.  Online- and other means of learning and apprenticeship (not to mention the learning that takes place when you start a small business or pursue some other big project) is changing the opportunity landscape.  A four-year-degree at an accredited college is one path, but many others also exist.  And certainly learning to value your own learning, “packaging” your accomplishments (i.e., such as creating a portfolio or shaping your accomplishments in another form) can stand you well.

For fun, here is a link to a post I wrote a couple of years ago that details my wandering through self-directed higher education, including my  folk college, Folk College Roots.

The post (near the end) also happens to  include the poem “Wage Peace” by Judyth Hill, in response to 9/11.  As 9/11 is tomorrow, and the ten year anniversary, I encourage you all to read it.