Thursday, November 28, 2013

How to track on a deer skin drum

I have just finished reading a book about how to track by Tamerack Song titled Entering the Mind of the Tracker.  Song underlines the importance of "being a question", rather than looking for and then stopping when finding an answer.

Yesterday I was beginning a new drum, creating the significant transition between deer skin and drum head, when I thought I would try and read "the song of the track" on the hide surface.  The neck of this Cortes Island deer is toward the right, appearing as thicker, darker skin.  The slightly thicker backbone skin is a faint light ridge of shine. The skin is quite thin and unblemished by rut scars or tick bites so this was probably a young buck. 

On examination of the surface I find three puncture wounds in the left hind quadrant, just off the backbone and angling toward the deer's hindquarters.  The closest two are about 2 inches apart, while the largest cut in not quite three inches separated from the other two.  The cut shape is like a tear drop, with one end rounded and the other terminating in a point.  Trying to understand what happened during this moment in the deer's life, instead of just naming the creature likely responsible, requires much more intensive looking and pondering. 

I am pleased the cuts do not fully puncture the skin because this means I can position my drum head pattern to include them in the playing surface of the new drum, which is shown inside the plastic circle as a faint black line.  With the skin laid out more smoothly on the cutting board I see now that the cuts are positioned more directly in the center of the back over the backbone. 

As I am cutting out thongs from the rim of the remaining hide, I ponder what happened in this moment of the deer's life to create this story.  The pointed end of each cut seems too sharp for wolf claws, and if the deer had pushed under a wire fence I would expect the wounds to look more like a tear than a pucture. I  have seen this tear drop-shaped wound on my own arm when one of my cats hooked me during play.  Could this be cougar claw marks?
We have recently had sightings of cougars back on the island, who disappeared when the wolf population grew several years ago.  I even wrote a story for the Journey Oracle cards about a time I saw a cougar on the ridge beyond our fence.  Now that the wolves are less in evidence, perhaps the cougar have moved back into their territories.  I know that courgar like to attack from above, dropping onto their prey from overhead branches rather than chasing down deer as wolves will do.  If a cougar  landed on the back of this deer but only made contact with one paw before the prey bolted, the stretch and angle of the marks would make sense.
Tracking the song of these marks as been much more exciting, and informative, than just making a guess at the creature's name and dismissing the details.  The energy of this track is part of this drum.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The most valuable part of a frame drum

I have written many Journey Oracle posts about how to build or paint a drum, yet I have not focused on the smallest, most valuable part.  The most important part of a frame drum is whatever is used to hold the hide onto the frame, since without the tension the drum would have no voice.  Some drum builders use thongs made of hide, but many years ago I was shown in a shamanic journey to use a cedar withe made into a ring. 

The withe is a long thin branch on a cedar tree, traditionally used by First Nations people in the Canadian northwest for fish hooks and fasteners because of its remarkable strength.  Before I cut a withe I tell the tree what I want it for, and make a gift of pounded corn to the ground at the tree base.  This is for two reasons. I learned from Martin Prechtel to always leave a gift of eloquence and effort when I take something from its natural destiny.  I also believe that when a squirrel or mouse finds the corn, and eats well, its joy helps the tree heal.

The withe is peeled of its bark; the ends are "feathered" which means shaped to half the original dimension, and then bent into an aluminum ring with the feathered ends overlapping.  If the withe is the most important part of the drum, then the shavings are the most valuable.  This is because I understand that nothing from Nature is garbage. 

The shavings and cedar brackets trimmed from the withe go back to the tree and are left to melt back into the soil as food for the Holy.  The physical mass of the shavings are not the food, but are evidence of my remembering to feed Nature with my respect and thank you.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why do I call my paintings shamanic?

I have just completed a new acrylic painting and it shows why I call my paintings shamanic.  When I write about being shamanic I do not mean be a wannabe shaman, I mean being Nature. Knowing that everything that is, is alive.  Everything wants the dignity of its own lived experience.  Even the most altered of man-made materials originates from the Earth and continues its vibration in whatever form it has.  My acrylic paints are highly altered, for example, the natural iron oxide that is the pigment of raw sienna is suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion which is in turn inside a plastic tube.  And yet these elements still sing on the paper, creating a feeling of being in Nature.

When the sky moves as I move past the painted surface, and the clouds form and fade depending on my angle--this is the shamanic painting being alive.

When the texture of the paint and paper combine to create a surface I cannot predict or fully control, this is the painting showing me its lived experience.

When the feelings of vast space and peace arise in me as I look at the painting, this is the song of being in this place--of passing though the veils that cause the layers of reality to appear separate--and I am again on the beach, and it is the last morning.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wisdom from cats in a dream

My beautiful silver tabby Losha was having some stress-related skin problems and so I asked for wisdom from cats in a dream about what was the cause. I asked "What does my cat need to be happy?" and the answer was so profound I feel it applies to all of us. There were three things required.

The first happiness was belonging to a place.  The dream image made it clear that this belonging was not necessarily to humans, but to a location.  I think we all need to be attached to a place that is a good fit with our temperament, our values, the "colour" of our coat.  The seasonal changes and elemental forces of a place nourish some and challenge others.  What a blessing to be at home in a place.

The second happiness was having food provided.  The dream image was not just about having food, but about having it provided.  When I try to think of what it would take to feed myself without the dubious support of our modern agriculture and transport systems, I quickly realize that I would be in deep trouble until I learned how to forage and scavenge and trap.  And that even with excellent help from  Unlearn, Rewild by Miles Olson, I probably would not be able to learn fast enough.  

The third happiness was a safe place to sleep.  The key image in the dream was about safety more than about sleeping.  We need to be able to relax completely into the certainty that we will be held safe by our place of rest.  

After this wisdom from cats in a dream, when I think of the approaching Remembrance Day holiday, I think of more than honouring brave death on foreign soil. I think it is a day to remember what we all need to be happy, and what many humans and creatures do not yet have: a place to belong to, food provided, and a safe place to sleep.  Blessings on Remembrance Day from the Journey Oracle.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Journey Oracle card reading for a new drum

I made this new drum yesterday during the energy of Halloween, the ancient holiday when the veils are thinnest between all the versions of reality.  Because of this special energy I decided to do a Journey Oracle reading for this shamanic drum companion, asking, "Who are you in this world?" I drew four cards.  This first one represents "the situation" which I understand is being born as a drum on Halloween.

I see an otherworldly creature, whose eyes cannot yet see this human reality.  It looks a bit startled and on guard, as if wondering, "How did I get here? I cannot sort this out."

This second card represents "the experience" of the drum; the story the drum is living at this moment within the situation.  I see a baby deer who is both trusting and at the same time paying full attention.
The expression is wide awake, as if wondering, "Do I have first aid?"

This third Journey Oracle card represents "change."  That moment in the situation when something decisive happens or something changes completely.  I see a magical turkey-like bird, which is called the "give-away or thanksgiving eagle" in some indigenous communities.  This is the transformation the drum is experiencing as it dries, and its unique voice and purpose is revealed.  Although this drum is on my smallest 12" hoop, it clearly is showing a big heart full of gratitude.  So this is "Why did I return?"

This fourth card represents the final solution to the situation, what the drum wants as an outcome.  I see two magical eyes, each able to see a different reality and yet looking out from the same face.  I think this is the drum's purpose: to be able to be a guide in both this world and the spirit world, so the drummer need never wonder, "Have I taken a wrong turn?"