For Sale: Free Range Izbushka Eggs

It’s mid-October, late in the afternoon.  The day is warm and the sky is that piercing blue that only exists for a few brief weeks, contrasting beautifully against the red and orange leaves of the trees.  You pull into a small rest area to stretch your legs after several hours of driving, and to maybe get something to eat from the little attached diner.  The parking lot is pretty quiet, and it’s a nice day, so you decide to stop and eat at one of the picnic tables off to the side.  As you sit down, a flash of color catches your attention.

At a nearby table, a woman is sitting beside a plain brown woven basket filled with what looks to be brightly colored eggs, like the kind you see in the spring.  Beside the basket is a handwritten note stating that they are for sale.  There seems to be more writing, but you can’t quite make it out from where you sit.

The woman notices you looking, smiles pleasantly, and gestures that you are welcome to take a look.  You point at your food, and she nods.  After you finish eating and dispose of your trash in a nearby waste bin, you give in to your curiosity and approach her table.

FOR SALE

Izbushka Eggs – $6 each

Free Range

Guaranteed to be mostly helpful.

 Not knowing what to make of this, you ask her what an Izbushka egg is.

She smiles and begins to tell you about hand-raised chicken-legged huts.  You blink nervously, trying to decide if you’re dealing with a Halloween prank, a local artist, or someone with some sort of mental health issues.  As surreptitiously as you can, you glance toward the rest area employees who are leaning against the side of the building on their break, and see that they don’t appear concerned at all, so you’re pretty sure that she’s probably fine.  Artist, most likely, then.  You relax somewhat and turn your attention back to her, as she tells you about her flock of rare breed izbushka (barely the size of a child’s dollhouse!), and how this particular breed is known especially for their gentle natures, brightly colored eggs, and high rate of beneficial laying, as opposed to most of the larger breeds, who are prone to being more aggressive and liable to lay harmful eggs.  Unfortunately, they do have a higher chance of laying neutral eggs, so you’re as likely to get a small roll of stickers or cute pencil erasers as you are magic rings or the like.

She asks if you’re interested in buying one or two and, after a moment’s hesitation, you decide “why not?”.  A little whimsy is good for the soul, and it’ll make a good story when you get home.  Besides, you’re pretty sure the rest area employees would have stepped in by now if she was any kind of threat or whatever.  You pull out your wallet, hand her some money, and select an egg from the basket.  Definitely feels like plastic, though it does have a somewhat odd texture that you can’t quite place.

You thank the woman, wish her a good day, and continue on down the road.

Later that night, tucked up in your hotel room, you pull the egg out of your bag.  You smile and open it, curious to see what you’ll find.

Inside the pale shell, surrounded by vaguely iridescent fluff of some kind (you think it feels like some kind of unspun fiber, like raw silk maybe, but you aren’t sure), is a small, gold-colored ring.  Must be a “magic” ring, you think, and chuckle at the silliness of it all.  You go to sleep, pleased with your day’s little side adventure.

It takes you some time to notice it, but whenever you have the ring with you you have strangely good luck finding parking spaces.  Always in the most convenient locations no matter how busy or crowded a parking area is.  You think of the strange woman at the rest stop and wonder.  You shrug, and tell yourself it’s just a coincidence – after all, magic rings and chicken-legged huts that lay eggs aren’t really real – but you also never leave home without the ring and you never have to struggle to find parking again.

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Where Willow-Wrens Gather

O ne’er go down where the willow-wrens gather
So late on a midwinter’s eve
For wailin’ and weepin’ will follow down after
And ne’er you more shall be seen

-Folk rhyme of unknown origin

A little while back, on a rather foggy afternoon, I was driving down a back road on my way home when a flicker of movement caught my attention. I glanced at the trees, but didn’t see anything. Something told me to stop and check it out, but I was in a hurry so I ignored it. Still, it bugged me for the rest of the night. Something about it had seemed familiar, but in that way like when you’re trying to remember a dream, and I couldn’t pull the memory up. Eventually I decided that either I’d remember eventually or come across it again, and life went on.

The other day, on a different road, something else caught my attention; a small flutter of red among the winter-dead plants at the edge of a small marsh. This time, I pulled over to investigate. (I may have had to do a little light trespassing to get to it…nothing much, just a little dip through a fence onto some conservation land that was closed for the evening.) I was glad for the fact that it was really cold as it meant I wasn’t slogging through mud, though I could have done without the bone-gnawing edge of ice to the wind that cut through my gloves like they weren’t even there. But I digress…

I climbed through the fence and walked over to the edge of the water, boots crunching on the ice-coated grass, looking for the flash of red in the rapidly failing light until I found what I was looking for. To be honest, it was so small that I have no idea how I saw it from the road. On a tree branch there was a small object of grass and string, fluttering frantically in the breeze. While it was a very crudely done thing, clearly done by someone not entirely sure what they were doing, it was nonetheless recognizable as a very specific folk charm. Memory clicked into place, and I realized what was familiar about the thing I had seen the other week.

This was a willow-wren charm and, based on the colors, a warning that there were willow-wrens gathering in the area. No, not the normal little birds you’re probably thinking of. Willow-wrens are…something else. There’s almost nothing written about them, being an extremely obscure and almost entirely oral lore. I ran across them decades ago, but haven’t thought much about them in years. To say I was surprised to find this would be an understatement.

There’s very little known about willow-wrens or where they came from. Some say that they were originally a bastardization of will-o-wisp myths. Some say they’re based on some random event that happened that got twisted over the retellings. Others say they’re exactly what it says on the tin. There’s even a theory that they’re actually some sort of magical construct, though anyone with a half-ounce of respect for folklore and myth looks sideways at that one.

Willow-wrens are the same rough size and shape as a normal wren, but are said to have feathers of long, narrow, willow-like leaves. They’re never seen during the day, appearing just as the sun sets and are often described as having a faint bluish-green glow, similar to that of phosphorescent fungi (hence the suggestion of being a variant of will-o-wisp).

Tradition is that seeing a lone willow-wren is a kind of good luck, and hearing one call is an omen (of what, the stories don’t actually say, because that would be useful or something, I guess). Seeing a flock of them is Very Bad and you should be getting away from there as fast as you can possibly manage. (Again, what the Bad is is a point of contention and ranges from death, memory or dream theft, permanent bad luck, kidnapping, that sort of thing.) There’s a third theory that the willow-wrens are some kind of guardian spirits that protect a place, as well.

One of the fascinating things is that the use of physical charms has persisted into modern times, with very few changes, aside from purpose (some to ward against, some to call, some to warn people away). A willow-wren charm consists of three stalks of grain grasses (rye, barley, oat) braided and formed into a circle, tied at the top with a knotted or braided yellow or gold cord symbolizing the sun. This is consistent across all versions. Tied to the bottom of the charm, there are 3, 6, or 9 cords, each with a seed threaded onto it, though there’s conflicting stories about what type and how many seeds. Different colors denote different meanings (red for warning, blue for calling, silver or pale green to ward against, etc.). Types of seeds used include apple, squash, buckwheat, mustard, and others.

The one I found was, as I mentioned, extremely crudely done, being a single stalk of wild rye coiled and tied with unknotted thread and no seeds, but was still recognizable as a warning charm. Someone was trying to warn people that willow-wrens were seen flocking, and either was in a hurry or didn’t have all the information on how to construct the charm properly. The fact that it was there at all was strange enough, given the obscurity of willow-wren lore.

Stranger still was the fact that what I saw the other night was the right size, shape, and color to have been a willow-wren landing on a branch, watching as I drove by. I don’t know why the willow-wrens are gathering, or who the charm-maker was, but willow-wrens are being seen again, and that is always an omen. Of what, I can’t say. I suppose that we’ll have to wait and find out.

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There Are Other Things Along The Roads

Sometimes I come across roadside gods and saints or their shrines that are of darker natures than the ones I generally write about, and I wonder if I should write about them or not. Gods of black ice and dead ends, gods that are not of the road, but of Other Things. Gaping maws that swallow the roads in ink-black voids. Decaying shrines that were there before the road came and may be there after it’s long since cracked and crumbled back to stone and tar. Shapes that watch from the hills and fields as I pass by, waiting to see if I will be careless enough to stop and leave the safety of my iron and steel truck. Things that shift and stretch across the sky in ways that clouds do not do. Shrines of pylon and wire that sing crackling, whining paeans, hymns that may once of been devoted to gods of fire and warmth, but have twisted over the eons to become something new.

Perhaps I will write about them. After all, they are there, beside the road, and it’s not a bad thing for others to be aware of them, I suppose.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

Archiving The Unusual, Day 1

Archivist notes, 1 November, 2021

It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, somewhat difficult to begin the daunting task of organizing a formal archive of items and ephemera that have been stuffed willy-nilly in boxes and on shelves for decades, may have been left in the locations where they were found, or, in some cases, may not exactly exist as most generally understand them to.  Be that as it may, I’m working on doing so, as it has come time to start properly cataloguing and archiving the various cursed objects, liminal spaces, haunted flotsam, and other oddities that I encounter on a fairly regular basis, and to start taking better field notes, as it were.

Someday I suppose I’ll even have to figure out a proper title for the archive itself, but it’s only the first day of this project, after all, and I’ve got time.   In the meantime, I’ve got a pile of dusty old boxes to start going through and attempting to start sorting into something that makes some kind of reasonable sense.

This is going to take a lot of coffee.

M. C.

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

Simple Joys

In the summer, the morning light has a warm, golden quality to it. Not as rosy as the late afternoon or sunset, but gold, just the same. As summer becomes autumn, it becomes more white gold as it transitions towards winter’s silver.

The light this morning was a brilliant white gold as it shone through the falling leaves and leftover drops of rain from last night’s showers, and the breeze holds that slight chill that hints at the coming frosts and snow. We’re still a few weeks away from the snow, but the frosts can come at any time now.

This is my favorite time of year, brief as it is. There are few things that bring me more joy than to sit on the porch with my morning coffee and just exist in the light of autumn, as carnelian and ruby leaves fall to the forest floor.

Cursed Objects And Raspberry Jam

Does anyone else ever wonder why you only ever hear about the evil cursed or haunted objects?  Like, why don’t we ever hear about the annoying or benevolent ones?  Or the ones where the curse/haunting has no real interaction with the living, as it were?  For example:

– A stuffed animal  where the curse is actually that a hyper-masculine jerk is cursed to inhabit the body of the World’s Most Adorable and Plushy stuffed teddy bear, Mr. Flufferkins, and be the Guest of Honor toy for endless children’s tea parties and dress-up games until he unlearns his toxic ideas and learns that feelings and silly childhood games are not only okay, but actually good.  He’s a very slow learner, however, and has been stuck in the bear for a Very Long Time.  He refuses to admit that he’s developing a sneaking fondness for fairy bread with raspberry jam or that, in the deepest depths of his cotton-stuffed heart, he’s been thinking that maybe spending eternity as a children’s toy might not be so bad.  After all, it’s much easier to simply be a teddy bear.

– A painting haunted by a long-dead grandmother who stays around to keep an eye on her descendants and doesn’t do anything more sinister than glare judgmentally at houseguests she thinks are unworthy of her family.

– A small gold locket that curses its wearer to forget about their steeping cups of tea.

I dunno, I just think it’s unfortunate that we only ever hear about the murder-dolls and evil rings and things.  There should be more awareness of the rest of them, and I think I might have a new project to embark on here…

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

By Forest, Field, and Old Side Road

A bit over a year ago, I went out for what would be my last road trip for a long time.  It was the beginning of lockdown and the end of the Before Times.  Some of the trip was morbid curiosity; I wanted to see what the world looked like without traffic and people everywhere.  It was, as expected, disconcerting and more than a little apocalyptic.  A lot of it though was, honestly, to say good-bye.  I didn’t know when I’d be back on the road again, if ever.  I didn’t know what the world would look like if I was able to be out there again, but I knew that whatever it was, it would never be the same.  Something was dying, and I needed to be there to witness and honor its passing.

It’s strange to be getting back out onto the roads again.  The last time I was off the road for this long was when I broke down in the Bridge God’s courtyard, and that was a long time ago, now.  My body has forgotten how to be behind the wheel for very long, and finding that almost Zen-like state where the truck becomes an extension of me is harder than it used to be.  I know it will return soon enough, but in the meantime, it’s hard not to wonder if this is the time that I just can’t get it back, that too much time has passed and I’ll never remember how to hear the Road sing again.

The world is different now, as well.  Places that I used to pass by all the time are gone now, doors and windows shuttered.  Others are still there, but changed.  Some places the changes are obvious; restaurants and coffee shops with outside tables on extended sidewalks or sections of parking lots, that sort of thing, while others are changed more in feeling.   They feel almost haunted, as if some intangible part of them died, and while they’re still going through the motions of being Places, there’s something that’s gone.

Still, there are other places that are…cozier…than they were before.  Like over the recent months the place drew closer to itself, remembered what it was, and found a kind of  strength from the remembering.  Places like this were where I passed the world’s Most Adorable (and socially distanced) Town Fair and a small farm that had decided to set up a stand with a sign for Free Food, because they knew how much people are struggling and this was what they could do to help.  I cried a little at that one, because it’s good to see people caring for, and taking care of, each other.

Of course, there are the places that haven’t changed and there’s a comfort in knowing that the area around the Quabbin is still Very Clearly Riddled With Terrible Fae Traps like the “Detour” sign directing people off the highway and down a narrow, tree-choked dirt road, or a “Help Wanted” sign at the end of another dirt road leading off into the woods, with nothing indicating the presence of an actual business of any kind… (Sadly I was on a time schedule on the way home at that point, or I’d have gleefully turned the truck down either or both of them to investigate, because that’s just the kind of dumbass I am.  Maybe next time.) 

Overall, it was a good drive and good way to start scraping the rust off.  Now that the seal has been broken, Wednesdays are officially designated weekly Road Days.  Even pulled together a nice collection of dishes and utensils specifically for eating Real Food while I’m out and about, instead of scarfing down a protein bar or having to stop at a fast food place.   My goal is to eventually get a small trailer with a bathroom/shower hookup, or an rv, so I can go on longer trips, but that’s a ways in the future yet.  For now, this is a good restart while I figure out the new protocols and get back in the swing of things.

Let’s see what’s down those little side roads, shall we?

(Your friendly Routewitch preparing to get back behind the wheel.)

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

A Life In Myth

Once there was, and once there was not, a young girl. She lived with her mother and father and an assortment of cats, and if they never lived in one place for very long, it was alright.  No matter where they lived, they were always surrounded by artists, musicians, actors, storytellers, magicians, and other misfit sorts of people.  It was a hard life, to be sure, for Society doesn’t like people who don’t fit into its neat little boxes or don’t have deep roots, but for all that, it was hers and she was happy in it.

Then, one terrible morning, her mother died, and with her, the way of life the girl had known.  Her father remarried and her step-family, while pleasant enough people, were very different from the people the girl had grown up around, and they didn’t understand why she was the way she was, nor she, them.  Soon enough, all of the people from her childhood were gone, as well.  When the last of the musicians drifted away and the house fell silent, the girl put her face in her hands and wept for all she had lost.  It would be the last time she did so for many, many years to come.

She learned to live like the Rooted People, or at least go through it’s motions, and pretend she didn’t desperately miss her old life.  She grew up and took a job she hated to her marrow because it was expected and made her father and step-mother happy, and if she dreamed of open roads and a life of stories and music and art, she didn’t say a word. 

She tried to escape from time to time, but it never worked.  She married briefly, but he was one of the Rooted People, and while he liked the idea of her world, he didn’t want to live in it.  When he decided that he didn’t want her living in it, either, she packed her things and her cats and left him behind.

She wandered for some time, trying to fit into the Rooted People’s world just enough to find her way again and build a life from what shattered pieces she still had, but the pieces were so old and fragile and the Rooted World still refused to accept her, Unrooted misfit that she was.  Eventually, she met someone who was neither one of the Rooted People nor the Unrooted People, but was something else in between.  He had no interest in living an Unrooted life for himself, but understood and accepted that she needed to and if he stayed home while she wandered in search of stories and songs, he didn’t try to stop her and she knew he would be there when she came home.  She unpacked her things and the cats found sunny spots to sleep in, and there was music of a kind and stories and actors and the freedom to be again, and she was mostly content.

There were still issues, though.  The Rooted World still didn’t want her and as she grew older, she grew tired of trying to fit into a world that had never done anything but reject her.  

One night, she took out the box she kept the chipped and faded shards of her old lives and held them in her hands.  She cast them onto a cloth to see what she might see, but no matter how hard she looked, or how many times she recast them, the only thing she could see for certain was that the pieces were simply too broken to ever be put back together again.  The girl put her face in her hands once more and wept for all she had lost and for so many years of pain and grief and loneliness until she had cried out every last tear she had in her.

When she was done, she washed her face, poured herself a mug of tea, and considered the pieces again.  She couldn’t piece them into anything that made sense, that much was clear, but maybe there was some other thing she might do.  She sipped her tea, thoughtfully.  She thought about her lives, the child she’d been, the sound of her mother singing while she painted, as her father played his guitar along with her, and the silence that came after her mother died.  She sighed deeply, and gazed into her tea.  As she watched the faint wisps of steam dance along the deep amber surface, she had An Idea.

She gathered up the broken pieces and, one by one, considered each carefully.  She discarded some and kept others and when she was done sorting them like millet from ashes, she put the pieces she’d chosen to keep into an old stone mortar and ground them into a fine powder.  She mixed this powder with seawater and rosewater and turned them into ink.

She couldn’t rebuild her broken life but, using the parts she loved most and the things she had learned over the years, she could write herself a new life, with all the fantastic stories she could think of or find.  It would be hard, for the Rooted People probably still wouldn’t understand, but that was fine, because she found that she no longer cared.  If they wouldn’t accept her no matter what she did or did not do, then their opinions didn’t matter.

She smiled, and began to write…

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)