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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Dragging My Carcass Back Into The Saddle

I’ve been procrastinating on getting words to the proverbial page because executive dysfunction is an absolute bear and just doing things like taking a sip of water from the glass in arm’s reach is sometimes a Herculean effort lately. Brains are fun! Seriously, who thought bodies were a good idea? Bodies are terrible. Anyway. Today’s FB outage reminded me that of all the sites I’m on, this is really the one that I should be focusing on the most, since, well, it’s mine, and if the other sites go tits up, this is the one I’ll be left with. I should probably use it more or something.

It’s weird. I spent years on LiveJournal, posting pretty much constantly, but then LJ went the way of the dodo and I ended up on FB and Twitter, which are not conducive to longform blogging, and now it’s actually hard to write a post. I guess some of it is that blogging became so much more…commercialized…and we were expected to all be fancy professional writers who only wrote Carefully Crafted Essays about one kind of thing and not just folks on the internet sharing things from our day to day or whatever, and it got intimidating. Like, I feel like I have to be Just A Writer Writing About Writing or Just An Artist Writing About The Business Of Making Art and not just, well, me, a writer and artist with cats and a long-term boyfriend (13 years this month!) and a house with a third of an acre of feral yard that’s been designated as a certified wildlife habitat that we share with a variety of native birds, bees, the occasional bigfoot, passing werewolf, and other things.

Look, cryptids are wildlife that face habitat loss, just like any other creature. As long as they don’t cause trouble, they’re welcome, too.

Here’s to getting back int the saddle, for real, this time!

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.)

October’s Market Rises? Hopefully?

Dear gods and little fishies, please let this solution work finally…. I am so done with fighting this one battle over and over again.The last couple of weeks I’ve been furiously working on Getting A Way To Sell Art Online to work for me with a budget of mothdust and pocket lint, and a soul-deep refusal to use Etsy or any other company that insists my use of their hosting platform somehow grants them the right to dictate my business practices and policies. You’d think this would be relatively simple, but you’d be incorrect.

After some deeply frustrating setbacks and false starts, and one very long night spent re-reviewing e-commerce options that I’d discarded several times before, I stumbled across Something Interesting.

Big Cartel, which I’d previously discarded due to such reasons as “I can’t afford a monthly subscription at this time, reasonable as their costs are”, the limited number of listing slots on their free tier, and the inability to offer discount codes on said free tier, made some changes recently. I still can’t afford the subscription just yet, but they do allow me to use discount codes now, and so, with the creative use of a Flickr account, I can work with this new set-up until I can afford to upgrade to a paid tier.

Thus, October’s Market (the shop portion of my weird little adventure) is now officially live!

Since I can’t list more than five items at a time, and only one image file for each, I’ll be doing weekly “Featured Art” listings, and listing 5 different pieces each week. My website has a new page on it where I will be adding a gallery of all available pieces. (Non-featured pieces are available, but folks will need to email me directly and pay by invoice, instead of fancy online cart.)

Assuming this works, I’ll be able to upgrade reasonably shortly and streamline things further, but in the meantime, here we are.Tomorrow I get the truck inspected and (hopefully) road legal again, and there’s a new installment of Auntie Yaga’s in the works, as well as designs for more artwork.

Apparently moving the studio to a different room in the house unleashed the gates of productivity!

Onward to adventure, my friends!

Of Watchers, Forests, and Keys

Guess who has two thumbs and a business mailing address! Those keys? Those are my keys for my mailbox at the actual Post Office. Now I can put the PO Box address on receipts and things, and not have to give out my home address to people, just because they bought a piece of art or whatnot!

Of course, it turns out that mailboxes are expensive, so I pretty much just wiped out the entirety of what I’ve made in the last month or so, which means I need to hustle a bit and get some more paintings done and all that, which brings me to the next bit, where I note that I’ve also set up a business PayPal account so that I can use their purchase buttons without dealing with Weebly’s bullshit on Square. I’ve got a new page set up for posting artwork and other oddments for sale when I have them available and I even appear to have bashed my head against the html long enough to figure out what needed adjusting to make it work! It’s not an online store, but it’s what I can do for now, and I’m happy enough with it until I can swing a better solution. Here’s hoping it continues to work!

I guess this means I need to put together an FAQ page to address things like “Do you take commissions?” (no, because of who I am as a person) and “Do you sell prints?” (also no) and all that, having made Decisions on those fronts, plus general bits about shipping policies, etc.

All of this is well timed, as I finished another Watcher painting the other day, and have a bunch of Smol Monsters and even a Foxenwood piece that I’ve been very much wanting to be able to list for so long. Now I finally can! It’s all terribly exciting.

In Which A Dream And The Shadow Of A Goblin/Fairy Market Begins To Take Shape

One of my ongoing major challenges for, well, honestly the last 20+ years, has been the endless quest to figure out how to sell my stuff with a shoestring budget and no consistent access to physical locales. I’ve done consignment, which is great, except for randomly jacking fees and the tendency for places to suddenly decide that they just don’t feel like handling consignments anymore effective immediately, leaving you scrambling or putting you out of business completely (guess what happened to my first jewelry business!). I don’t have the output volume or style for most craft fairs and art galleries, websites are expensive and require a lot of equipment and skills I neither have nor care to waste what little spoons I have focusing on, Etsy’s business practices are so abusive and predatory that I refuse to work with them anymore, etc., etc., etc…

This does make selling things A Problem.

Some years ago, a friend asked me how I would describe a fairy market and a goblin market, each in three words, and in doing so, accidentally planted the seed of October’s Market, which is both a little of each and nothing like either of them, and it has been growing and changing since. It got shelved a while ago, because to be honest, I lost sight of what it was supposed to be and I didn’t know how to fix it.

A couple of times recently, I’ve had dreams of sitting in a park under a big, fringed umbrella beside one of those old-fashioned market carts. The cart is small, and just big enough to hold a dozen or so pieces of art at a time, a few bits of jewelry, and a selection of cute-but-vaguely unsettling hand sewn stuffed wrens (it’s their little button eyes, I swear).

These things are all tied together.

I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately, and I think I figured out a way to get it to work. See, I wander around a lot. I also carry a bag with art supplies and notebooks, because one never knows when one will need to pull over and draw at a scenic overlook, or spend some time writing on a riverbank. I’ve had people ask me about my art while I work, and if I have a website or way to purchase things without cash (seriously, almost nobody has cash on them these days), and I have to say no, and everyone loses.

Until now. After a lot of research and consideration, I’ve signed up with Square, which is a non-PayPal payment processor. If you’ve bought something at craft fairs, farmer’s markets, open studios, etc., where you swiped your card through a chip reader on a tablet or cell phone, you’ve encountered Square, and they’re a really solid, reputable company. I’ll be able to do things like include purchase buttons in my art posts, put things into the free online shop that comes with the account, and

*drum roll please*

I’ll have a secure, portable card reader that can process credit cards and contactless purchasing apps with me at all times, so I’ll be able to sell someone the piece they wanted to buy from me on the side of the road. (It’ll also allow me to set up a small table at farmers markets and whatnot, as well, once I feel more comfortable being around humans again.)

So, that happened. 😀

Naming-wise, I’m using October’s Market for the “shop” itself. It’s the sales portion of things currently, and while there’s a bigger, wider thing that October’s Market represents (like everything in my life, there’s a story to it), for now it’s just a little blanket or table on the side of the road, or in the park, or at the beach, with an artist and a small, ever changing collection of artwork, odd bits of jewelry and other trinkets, and a very small, not-remotely fancy online shop.

I’m not sure why, but I feel like this is going to work far better for me than anything else I’ve tried. I’m a bit more free-range than our society is built for, but this allows for that and I’m really looking forward to being able to take my work on the road.