Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Thanks to Alex Ross, I'm rediscovering my favorite universe of super heroes, the Justice Society of America.  Ross is apparently with Marvel at present, but did incredible work with DC for a number of years.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dog Days Special: The Woodreeve's Tale

(The following is excerpted from Chapter I of my current long fiction project, The Woodreeve's Tale, a novel set in my "Green World" mythos.)

I.  Magloron Island


Mar was master of the island. A hardy shepherd-folk had once dwelt there, but now only he and Wulf, his apprentice, called it home. The cold, the wind, and the loneliness might have sent all but the most solitary souls to a more welcoming clime. Not so Mar. Ten years he had passed there, laying eyes on few, save Wulf, and errant traders from far sun-kissed countries in the short summers. He was at peace.

His kinsmen came for him in their swan-prowed ship, some days after the autumnal equinox of Mar’s fortieth year. He watched their approach from a high cliff overlooking the island’s tossing bay. A blue-grey goshawk gripped his gauntleted arm, her feathers fluffed in the chill air. No hood covered the raptor’s wild yellow eyes; she peered round, snakelike, at her master, and at the grey dome above. She was big, even for a female gos, suited to pursuing both the grouse of the isle’s forest, and the coneys of the bleak, open moor. Leather jesses hung loose from her legs, though no leash bound her to the austringer’s glove; a small silver bell hung by a leather bewit from each leg.

The ship looked small and frail in the roiling waters far below. Mar had long wondered if they would eventually come for him; he could shut himself off from the world, he knew, but could not for ever shut the world out.

“Who are they?” Wulf asked, frowning up at his master. His long black locks trailed in the wind. He, too, wore a gauntlet, though it was somewhat shorter on his forearm than his master’s, and he did not carry a hawk of his own. 

The boat crunched onto the little shore at the foot of the cliff. Mar watched while the men disembarked and climbed the narrow steps cut into the black rock; then he and Wulf withdrew to a rough stone seat atop a crumbling cairn and waited. The goshawk glared up at her master, scolding him with an occasional deep ka-ka.

“They be warriors of Kuronia,” Mar said, “and my countrymen of old. We need not fear; but later, when thou art introduced, remember our custom with the Southerners: do not speak to them, unless thou art spoken to first. And we must needs ’ware much of this lot in especial: for age dulls not their edge, as for most, but lays it bare and jagged instead.” He laughed a little to himself. “And be not daunted by their eyes. Some have a bit of the look of the wolf about them, as I remember. Here.” He held the hawk out towards the boy. “Take Sly whilst I treat with these men. She is not used to such a throng as this.”

Wulf frowned harder, and cast a final look over the cliff’s edge. “Neither am I, Master.” He turned his face from the Sea, and took the goshawk onto his own glove.

The woodreeve watched the boy descend the tall slope, until his head disappeared behind tall brown heather. Alone he waited, his gaze still upon the windswept moorland.  He wondered -- as he often had during his self-imposed exile – that a man of the forests such as himself could come to love such a desolate, seemingly barren land; now the pang in his heart at the thought of leaving it (so he read the errand in their sail) reminded him, again, that he had indeed come to love that place.

“Wassail, greybeards,” Mar said, when the seven old thanes at last stood shivering before him. They were clad in woolen tunics of grey or brown (much like his own) and wore openly their war-tackle. Saxes – short stabbing swords – girt three. Two held long-handled handaxes; one, an evil-looking spiked mattock; another, two enormous, leaf-bladed spears. Their beards – silver-grey or white, one red, all dirty -- hung down to their belts. Some still showed traces of yellow-blonde in their long locks. Some wore worried frowns. All looked wearily upon the lord of the island.

“Wassail, Woodreeve, and well met,” said one. “I am hight Glyf, and knew your sire and grandsire. We have braved the whale-road two days, bearing a message:  the land of your fathers calls to you in need.”

“My fathers lay dead many years now,” Mar said, “but I wot somewhat of thee, Glyf Glymmerstrom. A wonder it is that thine own bones art not mouldering in a cold barrow in Kuronia, nigh those of my own kith and kin. Yet thou art not gone to earth, and art come to conduct me thither instead. What if I refuse? Slygastryon has not yet outflown the North Wind today.”

Glyf bowed low. “Art within your right to naysay us, lord,” he said, beard wagging.  “But you should know that the swart men from the east-dales art come raiding into Kuronia, and burned the very village of Starkhold not ten days agone. Some have told of dark things coming down the north-dales, from the icefields beyond the Mountains; and this not least: the Woodreeves’ enemy of old hast again been seen, nigh the western eaves of the Forest of Sentars.”

The wind whistled among the rocks while they stood silently on that high place.

“It is no matter,” Mar muttered at length. “I am tired. There is now only Sly, and the hunt. The grouse and hare give us good sport, nigh the Sinking Moor yonder.” He pointed north-east, towards a creeping wall of mist. “I am no longer a Woodreeve of Kuronia,” he added. “I will not go back.”

Glyf grinned. “Indeed.” He stroked his beard. “The Queen said you would refuse even so, at first.” Then he laughed, and stepping forward he clapped Mar on the shoulder. “In sooth, I hoped you would! For then we might have a bit of meat and drink in our bellies, and your roof over our heads while we parley, at least.”


Wassail. -- C.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Among the Standing People

I live in a Forest.

It has always been so for me, since my family moved to south Mississippi from the Texas coast, sometime around 1980.  My first memories of this place, seen from the back seat of a car on I-59, are of enormous pine forests shadowing the land.  Lacking mountains, Mississippi is dominated instead by trees.  Only in the flat Delta do the woods withdraw a little, hugging the bayous and rivers veining out from the Great River; elsewhere, one can go for months - or even years - without seeing the horizon.

On our little 1.65-acre Angle, we have no less than 120 trees.  The variety never fails to astound me when I consider it:  longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, cedar, bald cypress, magnolia, bay, sweet gum, poplar, sycamore, water oak, red oak, red maple, silver maple, beech, dogwood, hickory, pecan, redbud, holly.  Then there are the ornamentals:  Japanese red maple, Japanese magnolia, chinaberry.  Finally, a hoar pear tree holds fast in a remote corner.

In her book Sacred Demise, Carolyn Baker recalls the word the Lakota use for trees:  translated literally, it means 'The Standing People.'  Living among trees, one begins to understand the true meaning of this, especially in a region of the world where forests rule.  I say 'rule' as it is fittingly describes their existence here.  In this Angle, the Standing People are Lords, and they suffer us to live among them.

Our particular house was built in the 1950's, the yard sowed with the usual invasive lawn grass found anywhere from east Texas to the Carolinas.  The roof has only a gradual slope, though, so the longleaf needles do not tumble easily off it; several times a year, I am required to ascend the roof, rake in hand, and remove a pickup bed-sized load of needles to prevent moisture buildup.  Likewise, from midsummer to mid-autumn I must rake the yard before mowing it, as the longleaf needles quickly bog down our ageing Snapper.  Removal of giant pine cones is a constant throughout the year; further, late summer becomes dangerous, as the weight of an occasional green cone becomes too much for its bough and snaps off, becoming a 1-pound missile that I estimate would knock me clean out.  I have found them almost completely wedged into the ground.

The Standing People, like any other folk, have families.  Although the fire required to bring longleaf seedlings to life is not present, saplings of other tribes appear quietly all the time, given a few weeks' or months' allowance.  In the areas where I am attempting to restore the woodland after years of lawnmowing, nurseries form, where can be found the children of holly, beech, sweet gum, shortleaf pine, and water oak.  Upstart magnolia and hickory lean out of odd corners like sneaky teenagers.

The Standing People do not care for automobiles.  We must yield the carport to visitors, as any vehicle left outside is soon gifted by droplets of pine sap.  A massive limb crushed the top of my in-law's Prius a couple of years ago.  Needles fly off my truck on my way to work, leaving a trail for imagined enemies.

The Standing People suffered greatly during Hurricane Katrina.  No less than 25 of their number perished in our Angle alone.   Tornado-spawn snapped some pines, pushed others over.  I watched in disbelief as a 50-year old hickory fell.  Other, smaller trees were smashed by falling giants.  Some of the oldest longleafs, as well as a middle-aged red oak, had their shape and way of growth permanently altered, so that their limbs now for the most part grow in a westerly direction, as molded by the winds of storm.  Five years later, I am still cleaning up.

The aftermath of Katrina was nearly as destructive to the Standing People.  Some pines, their cores weakened by the tempest, succumbed to pine beetle infestation and died.  But not a few others in our area perished as humans succumbed to fear and cut them down, ground them up, root and twig.  They can hardly be blamed, I suppose, for falling trees damaged or destroyed many houses; but I could not help my sadness, thinking that any tree that had survived the hurricane would surely have proved they posed no lingering danger.   

Here, in this Angle, we kept our trees. 

But if the Standing People mourn their dead, they do so in silence, or in a language I do not understand.  They only lift their arms to the Sun each day, eating earth, drinking deep.  They suffer me and mine to live among them, keeping the summers shady, and shouldering the winter wind.  The past moulders beneath them, and they dig in with their toes; but their will is turned skyward.

Maybe one day, I shall take my leave of the Standing People, and dwell in sight of naked horizons; but my heart will always be cooled by the memory of forest shadows.  That, I deem, is no bad thing.

ENT.    When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold
             Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold;
             When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West,
             Come back to me!  Come back to me, and say my land is best!

                                                              -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Something Told the Wild Geese

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go,
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, "snow."

Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, "frost."

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

--Rachel Field

(found at Sharon Astyk's Casaubon's Book)

The Rooster, Juanita

Photo: Dominique Club of America

I have come to the realization that our four Dominicker hens are not all, well, hens.

I'd bought the four chicks with the understanding that they were pullets -- i.e., they were females, and would all grow up to be hens.  This was critical to my keeping a stealth flock, as a rooster would announce their presence to the world beyond our Angle, frequently and often.  I paid $4.50 each for the chicks, and turned down the offer of the owner of the General Merchantile (that's really its name, though the owner is not Ike Godsey) for a rooster chick (a cockerel) for $2.50.

Not long after we got them home, we noticed that one of the chicks had a bit more yellow about its head than the others, was bigger, and a bit more of a bully.  But the other three gradually outgrew it, until it was a runt.  But it kept its lighter markings, and its impolite ways.  Weeks passed, and as all the chicks began to develop their combs and wattles, well, the runt began to put on a real good comb.  But I/we brushed it off, and I confidently named the chicks Aunt Bea (the largest), Helen (the darkest), Thelma Lou (the daintiest), and Juanita (the runt). 

(Yeah, we're big fans of The Andy Griffith Show here.  "We" meaning me.)

Well, Juanita's comb kept on growing, and though the bird's temperament has eased somewhat, we can no longer ignore the obvious:  Juanita is a cockerel.  He's not tried to crow yet, but any day now I expect to hear a sound like a rusty hinge being strangled (Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, p. 2.38:  "Cockerels") coming from the sunroom.

This puts us in a dilemna.  I absolutely cannot pasture this bird, or we may have neighbors complain, and my outlaw status compromised.  Compounding the predicament is the fact that Adrienne (my wife) and Belle (my daughter) have become very attached to the flock.  Even Jaunita has come to exhibit the tameness I described in my previous essay, though he does peck a little harder than the hens.  So I can't keep this bird out with the pullets in the poultry yard I've painstakingly made over the past year.  Neither can I simply give him away, not without wailing and gnashing of teeth from the fam-damily. 

Therefore, the rooster, Juanita, will essentially become the Prisoner of Zenda, when the time comes:  that is, he'll be confined permanently to the coop.  Hopefully it will muffle his crows enough that he will not cause a problem.  One positive:  if this ploy is successful, then I may be able to use the coop to keep roosters, and be able to actually raise chickens here within the city limits.  What a wonderful IN-YO-FACE! to the Laurel city apparatchiks.

This whole chicken business is becoming addictive.

Image:  Dominique Club of America

Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"