I bought some prints from Rima Staines‘ Etsy store and they came yesterday. (Do go check out her blog — it offers fascinating glimpses into the mind and life of this very talented artist). One of the prints I got was this one, “Koshka In A Blue Dress”
It’s one of those images you look at and think, “Yep, that’s it. That’s exactly it.” What got my train of thought started down this particular track, however, was this print, which I also just had to have:
In the first place, the image is so delightfully absurd in a “Once Upon A Time” sort of way. In the second place, it reminded me of a story of mine from a longer work, “Lidamusik,” called “The Day The Fish Swam Over The House” and that in turn, reminded me of another story from the same cycle called “Stone Shoes and Drums on the Shore” in which the boy Ghíndhì meets a girl called Asälìástï. When she was a very young child, the boat on which her parents, her brother and she were sailing was caught in a storm and wrecked on the rocky coast where the story takes place; she was the only survivor. One of the bèá’ìàshî’äänìì, the blue fish, (which are true fish, but very like our orca in many ways), saved the girl, but could only do so by catching her leg in its jaws, injuring her leg in the process. That leg became stunted and is now shorter than the other leg. Nonetheless, the girl is a superb swimmer and regularly swims out to harvest long strands of the seaweed called ätsfâîàànèsh whose fiberous stalks are used like flax to make a linen like cloth. On land, however, she frequently wears sandals with soles made from rock to strengthen her legs for swimming — hence her name, “Stone Shoes.” She has been adopted by the family that lives at the head of a deep fjord. One of the members of that family is a young man named Kêshäymbùún which means “Drums-on-the-Shore” — whence the title of the story.
The underlying theme of Lidamusik is the long, meandering journey the boy and his father make from their home, where his mother has just died, to the place where his grandmother lives. It is told as a series of stories about the things that happen to them along the way. Each of the stories has a “quote” — a little verbal sgraffito, that has to do with the underlying theme of that particular story. The one for this story is: “Where the land plods along in stone shoes/The water runs barefoot.”
One scene in the story involves an evening of music. Néóùùs, the family patriarch, begins it:
Néóùùs might have been a spirit; his bare feet made no sound on the steps that led down to the beach, nor did the sand whisper warning of his approach. Just as silently, the line of shadow cast by the western cliff‑edge of the fjord had been gliding farther and farther eastward across the water until it began to climb up the face of the eastern cliff‑edge. The sun was setting and the light was fading. Néóùùs stood quietly on the sand, almost halfway between the whispering of water’s edge and the dark rock of the House. He drew the silence into himself. It flowed into him like the sea‑salted air he drew slowly into his lungs. His loosed white hair cascaded down his back and shoulders like water down the dark cliff face beside him, foaming over his brindled brown tunic. He seemed almost to glow softly as the shadows seeped across him.
How did he know the moment to begin the song? How did he know that ámì dêíshí tsô, the Moon with the Yellow Face, was even now raising itself on tip‑toe to peek over the horizon? The sliver‑slender notes of the oboe floated out onto the air, weightless and gossamer, caressing the cliff faces with their reverberations. This day was leaving, trailing behind it the pearl‑bright skirts of its garment of sunlight until they too had slipped across the threshold of the world.
As the whisp of melody wafted into the gathering darkness like a single tendril of smoke, the forehead of the moon with the yellow face cleared the horizon behind them and drew a single line of moonlight straight down the fjord and off into the distant darkness.
Kêshäymbùún had brought lap drums out of the House and found a seat on the sand beside Néóùùs. He gave the melody a sinuous, undulating underbeat, tapping out a rippling rhythm with his fingertips, pouming syncopating accents with the heels of his hands. One by one, the others came out of the House, silently on bare feet. Soundlessly they spread out carpets over the sand for themselves and for Ghíndhì and this Dad to sit upon.
The last to come out was Asälìástï, deliberately crunching and whumping her stone shoes on the sand in rhythm with Kêshäymbùún‘s drumming. She had thrown a length of loosely‑woven ätsfâîàànèsh fabric over her head so that it covered her down to the ground in its chalk‑white folds. She went right up to the water’s edge, her stone shoes thumping on the wave‑wet sand. The pale yellow shaft of moonlight inched toward her across the water as ámì dêíshí tsô rose higher and higher. When she held out her arms, the fabric hung from them like wings. Slowly her body began to undulate from side to side, insinuating itself into the drumbeat, leaning first into one shoulder and then into the other as though she were some great white bird sliding slowly across the darkening sky, soaring over her stamping, stone‑shod feet.
When it was time, she let the harmonies of her song entwine about the single line of melody as though they were strands of ätsfâîàànèsh waving in the current.
“The sky in the sea,
Soft it is against the fins.
Flying, flying through the dark water,
I soar, I swoop, I slide along the current,
Through the many‑tendrilled breezes of the night‑dark water.
I am swift. I am strong.
On tireless fins, flying in the sky‑blue sea.
In the moon‑dappled wind‑rippled sea.
Am I the reflection or the mirror?
“The sea in the sky,
Soft it is against the wings.
Swimming, swimming through the clear blue air.
I dart, I flash, I slip across the wind,
Through the cloud‑combing currents of the sun‑sparkled air
I am swift. I am strong.
On tireless wings, swimming in the sea‑blue sky.
In the star‑speckled wind‑ruffled sky.
Am I the mirror or the reflection?”
“Stone Shoes and Drums On The Shore” © 1993 The Owl Underground, all rights reserved.
A song called “The Tree of Life” by Nancy Rumbel, from the CD “Notes From The Tree of Life” is the soundtrack of that scene. Nancy Rumbel also performs with guitarist Eric Tingstad as “Tingstad and Rumbel.” If you like acoustic guitar based music laced with woodwinds that has gentle tempi and lovely melodies, you will like their music. There’s some of it available on YouTube, although not this particular song.
The boy Ghíndhì ‘s mother’s name is “T’saile.“I found the name on a map one day while I was looking for something else, fell instantly in love with the sound and shape of it, and knew that was her name. All I knew about the word was that it was the name of a town. Later, I discovered that Tsaile, AZ, is where Diné College is located and that the town’s name derives from the Navajo name for the area where the town is located, “Tsé Híílí,” meaning “water coming from the rocks.” I probably don’t pronounce it right, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a bit of wave polished, topaz blue glass that washed up on the shore of my awareness one day that I picked up because I thought it was beautiful and used to embellish something I was making.
Before I wander off again, I thought I’d leave you with some metaphorical wildflowers from the musical meadows of my memories: