Are You Ready for the Darkest Time of Year?

Forest Park

Transformation occurs when we lose our way and find a new way to return.

– Shaun McNiff

Billy here: The winter solstice is around the bend, just a few turns of the Earth away. We have been slowing down a bit, sleeping in and caring for our colds that popped up a week ago. The nights get longer and it seems like I spend longer in the dream world too. Winter solstice is always a time of deep inward turning for me and thoughtfulness about the collective shadow. Last winter I started digging deeper into my dreams because all my life I have had vivid and intense dreams, some prophetic and some nothing short of a kind of rite of passage. I feel that our dreams are the veins and arteries into the bigger organism of which we are a part. I began compiling various dream recall techniques and practicing them as much as I could. I received instructions such as, “If you can heal water, you can heal all.” But I also received terrible reminders of unfinished business with darkness of the past, so delving into dream recall and lucidity practice was a kind of therapy for me. I could face difficulties of the past in the dreamworld directly and transform them with this practice. I am a beginner, but I’m making some progress! Here are some things I picked up:

 Dream Recall/Lucidity Practice

  • Reflection – ask yourself throughout the day if you are dreaming or awake, this is a form of mindfulness
  • Symbols – recognize odd occurrences that would point to a dreamlike state rather than waking
  • Remind yourself to remember your dreams before bed each night
  • Keep a dream journal
  • Hold the position you wake up in and wake slowly, as your body remembers the dream
  • Plant an intent before bed – ask for a dream answer for something that needs working out – sometimes this is profound, sometimes it backfires into a hilarious trickster comedy!
  • Dreamtime awareness – remember that all reality is a lucid dream
  • Supplements, herbs and foods can support vivid dreams and healthy sleep – B6s, tryptophan, 5-HTP, choline, beta carotene, mugwort, chamomile, lavender, rosehips, passionflower, anise, peppermint and of course, limiting alcohol and stress

Tree on Dogwood Trail

I just finished reading an amazing book, my top pick for the year in fact, called Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer. She is a botanist and also a member of the Potawatomi Nation. This book of nature essays describes exactly what I’ve always felt since I was a kid and had no words to describe: that all of nature is alive and sentient, that it is possible, in fact necessary, to blend spirituality with science, that modern “progress” is actually destructive, that capitalism’s triumph over the gift exchange is the root of this destruction and that talking to trees and spirits isn’t a symptom of a mental disorder and in fact is a healthier way to relate than the modern split between rationality and spirit. It has been slowly dawning through the years that the real problem lies in thinking that we are separate from nature.

We are what nature is still imagining.

– David Richo

With the tar sands being exploited, the worst drought in California since Charlemagne tore through Europe, harsh winters and blistering summers, it seems that change is in the air whether we are ready for it or not. Every culture has myths that point to people destroying their own world out of their own greed and excess. In Northern Europe there is an old story carved into several runestones about Sigurd or Siegfried, who learns the speech of birds from the blood of the dragon’s heart and learns from the birds the plot of his mentor and swordsmith to kill him. Sigurd slays  his mentor and the dragon who hoards the wealth, but because he himself hoards the wealth instead of sharing it with the people, he is also slain. This is the part of the story that we tend to forget. Collectively, homogenized European immigrants to Turtle Island seem to only remember the part about slaying the dragon and winning the gold, forgetting the ending and the moral of the story, that more violence and greed doesn’t put an end to violence and greed. It is also interesting to note that even though Sigurd gained wisdom and the ability to understand the speech of birds, his actions outweighed his gifts’ potential. The possession of intelligence and power doesn’t mean we are not doomed if we cannot escape the inertia of the easy path. Happy holidays!!

2014-12-15 15.09.52

Spence here: A passel of preschoolers dressed up in colorful winter rain gear isn’t as hard to wrangle as two goats on leashes…this parade just happened in our funny neighborhood. I am looking out the window, past the new wood stove our friends installed this week–ours has yet to be installed! The film noir phase of winter in Portland has definitely set in. The trees are bare and skinny and I feel the same. No matter how many striped shirts I put on, I still feel the 80% humidity in my bones. But,”Ey, it could be worse” so say the fishermen! Do they? This one does.

I promised you some thoughts about Bruce Chatwin’s book, The Songlines. Part travel story, part philosophical meandering, part human interest–well, a lot human interest. The most fascinating is not the overall story of the Australian Aboriginals and how they use song to interpret where they live and how they travel in the outback, but the lack of understanding the non-natives have of the concept. Using songs, inherited from one’s clan ancestry and using various “Dreaming-tracks” (stories of sacred sites/physical land forms) to find one’s way, seems a natural compassing. Of all Chatwin’s characters he describes, the Russian guide, who has his own tale about how he came to live in the Australian desert, gives structure and insight to the book. Chatwin basically rides along with this liaison, as he tries to map out which sites over a 300 mile stretch of land are sacred to the “traditional landowners”, the Aboriginals. The not-so-funny part of course is that all the land is sacred to them and thus begins the ridiculous job of trying to find a stretch where railroad could be laid across the continent, without disturbing sacred sites. Chatwin writes about the people he meets in such comic detail, contrasted with a serious transcendence about Man and Nature. I am both cerebrally stimulated and annoyed that I have to re-read some sections, as Chatwin’s thoughts instigate my own waning and waxing, thus distracting me. I am excited to read another of his books called Anatomy of Restlessness.

Fern and Tree

This week, Billy and I decided to go for a long walk in Forest Park, on Portland’s west side. I took a lot of pictures while I was driving us there–which was really fun and broke up the traffic jams–but I’m pretty sure that’s dangerous and illegal. I jumped through a lot of hoops this week–getting my Oregon driver’s license, changing over the Jeep registration, applying for health care…basically two days of bureaucracy. I was glad to get outside into reality! (I kept thinking of the hilarious episode of Portlandia, where the characters are all about “getting the gear” to go to Forest Park.) Walking through the woods helps me unravel my tensions, and as I have been pondering for a profession lately, a trip to the park was exactly what I needed. Increasingly, I have already begun thinking about 2015. I feel a good year of growth coming on, with a twinge of trickery and mayhem. This is good if one is ready to simultaneously bend and hold onto the reigns. I approach January with one eyebrow raised and one hand behind my back with hidden crossed fingers.

Winter Meadow

In observance of old Yule tradition, Billy is taking 12 days off between Winter Solstice and New Year’s. I, too, would like to take those two weeks to reflect and reconnect with our family and friends–and our deep selves! I want to try to envision what “Dreaming-tracks” are out there in our landscape and therefore within ourselves, as they are one and the same. We shall post in January of 2015, where we will begin again… Merriment to you and yours!

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And to know the place for the first time.

– T. S. Eliot

All Over the Map: Winter Introspection


Spence here: Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we had the unique opportunity to go back to New Mexico. Part of the reasoning was to retrieve the musical instruments and tools we didn’t have room for in the Jeep the first go around. Billy also joked that we “left our dreams behind”, in that we indeed left our manifestation collages in the old Spartan trailer on Max’s land. As part of our work through the book The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, we each made a collage of what is important to us, and then made a collage together, representing everything we would want to include in our ideal Home. In returning, I also secretly wanted to complete our 8,500 mile loop for 2014, as you can see in the above photo, taken of our route. I was delighted as well to take inventory of all the musical equipment we’ve collected over the years. Between Billy and I, we have enough instruments to outfit any kind of band! (2 basses, 2 bass amps, drum kit, keyboard, accordian, electric guitar, backpacking guitar, steel string guitar, ukulele, violin, djembe drum). It will be so good, one day, to get all of them into the same room–we still didn’t have space to bring them all back! Part of the impetus in building/remodeling the shed in Portland is to have a musical gathering safe house–perhaps that is what we should call the building. Right now it is named ACME (Art and Creative Musical Experience).

I really appreciated landing in New Mexico after some time, to be able to reflect on our experiences there and to reconnect with friends. I love the kind of weirdness, magicalness and love we’ve found there. The people are one of a kind and I had missed them more than I knew. The love we felt returning is something some people only feel maybe a few times in their lives–we have the luck of feeling it all the time–radiating out from the “Land of Enchantment”. The importance of accepting my “weirdness” on this level is not only healing, but inspiring.

As I went through some belongings I had stashed in New Mexico, I came across some photos of some paintings I had done. I gave them away to friends down there, in thanks for all their love and support, (see the photos below.) I also came across the following poem. I hope everyone is able to take time this winter to reflect on the year’s activities, if not every days’ activities. I want to carry with me the magic I have felt from New Mexico and its inhabitants, as well as the intimate presentness I have intended to cultivate year-long. At the risk of sounding like a resolution, I am currently working on the issue of patience. As Billy and I continue to work on finishing the cabin and constructing the music studio, may I learn the art of “In Process” and not the finality of “Finished”. Undone is not yet a goal. Next week, more talk about The Dreaming and Songlines, from Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines.

We find the time slips by fast on this hill, as well.

Max is gone.

The roof should hold up another year or so, and the porch?

The water tanks are low

But will we be here to see them fill?

When monsoons pour out the dippers

And night skies change eyes.

Too bad summer gives me itchy to go do go.

Explore the mountains as they allow,

Like looking under rocks and feasting on the squiggliness.

It is mostly the smells I love

Following invisible waves to foreign sills

Could just be in my genes.

winter in portland, oregon

 remembering our seasons in new mexico

 manifestation collage

Billy here. It’s hard to believe how much a year can hold in its arms. Everything on the planet! There was a lot of griefwork. My grandmother leaving. Some hardship. And also a lot of beautiful times. Spence and I celebrated our private marriage. I finished an acoustic album.We visited our families across the country. We saw fireflies in the Ozarks and sailed on Lake Huron. We spent time with old friends, sang, drank and cried.

Since the first time I stayed in New Mexico years ago, it felt more like home to me than any other place. It is the spirit of the land and the people. They all welcome us as family. Now we are welcomed in the mossy grey of the Willamette Valley by loved ones and I am so grateful for all the acceptance and love in my life.

I want to spend a lifetime giving back. It seems there is nothing else to do but give back. Not just to the human people, but to all the animal, plant and mineral people who have lifted us up to where we are now. We are not here because we’re better, but because we are the youngest held up on a foundation of over 600 hundred million years of plant and animal evolution with billions of years of bacterial wisdom behind that again. Bacteria speak in flashes of chemical. Even rocks change form and speak, but it may be a long time before science “proves” it. We all got here together and we are coexisting now. But humans are the teenage sorcerer’s apprentice and it’s easy to get carried away with the little self, with mental gymnastics and cleverness of all kinds. But when we get back down to it, all that is important is giving back. Giving songs to dawn. Giving space. Giving thanks. There may be no such thing as perfection. But all we can do is keep diving back into the whetstone.

From the High Desert to the Rainforest

Welcome to our 50th blog post after two and a half years of work on this blog! The last week we drove down to New Mexico from Oregon (and back again) to visit old friends and retrieve our musical instruments. What follows is a photo essay of our journey…

The quote of a quote, I quote here: “It has been one month since my last spewing of profundities. I have done 8 hail meow meows and 7 whatevers…”

“Things to do: mail check, get gas, grab musical instruments, eat something.”

The words come to Mind through the whole history of whatever Tribe you learned your language in. The words come to Mind through all the private history of how you’ve lived your Human Being. There is no way to cheat, unless you go to too many schools, and try to be a poet.

– Lew Welch

A gallery of technologies: old and new:

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
– Robert Frost

 Time and space are thus dissolved around each other: a month and a stretch of road are synonymous.

–  Bruce Chatwin

I looked up and saw a tiger with its head bowed and I smiled because I had seen the wheelbarrow’s true form.

– Billy von Raven


Blue-Man-Suit Dream: It was made from a simple quilted fabric, which was blue in color, but had a gentle, non-threatening, well-loved sheen. The holes were for the obvious. The not-so-obvious, was the way in or out.

– Spencer Fisher

…It is true that your mind is sometimes like a battering ram running all through the city and the villages shouting so madly inside and out about the hundreds of things that do not matter


…O listen, O listen more carefully to what is around you right now.


In my world all that remains is the wondrous call to dance and prayer rising up like a thousand suns, out of the mouth of a single bird.

– Hafiz