Saturday, 4 April 2020

The sun and the avocet

Before he rose today, the sun asked the avocet -
"What have you found during your foragings this dawn?"
The avocet looked around her and, surprised that the sun showed an interest in her, reflected for a moment.
"Mr Sun," she then replied obligingly, "I have found that essentially nothing has changed. I mean, everything is the same as yesterday, and yesterday was the same as the day before."
The sun made no reply. He was busy working on a particularly delicate pale purple, whereby he wanted to announce himself to the hills on the opposite horizon.
Mistaking the sun's momentary silence for a gentle invitation to be-think herself, the avocet added, "Of course, this morning is the same, but it is also different from all others. Low tide is particularly low today, and so the parts of the lagoon where I am foraging are particularly tight with fish. The skin of the water is rippling with them, and many have been jumping, as if they had not enough space at this moment."

The sun had completed the creation of the desired pale purple.
"Ah," he said, "I like that you are so observant of others. I shall touch the water's surface now, to give it a little colour. It may help those mullet feel that their home is just a little more expansive until the high tide frees them."
He directed the light of his eye into the sky, which obediently threw a rosy spread upon the water.

"What else," he then asked the avocet, "have you discovered?"
"I hope I can satisfy your curiosity," the avocet replied a little nervously. "I will say that I have had quite a dawn of wise morsels. I must have felt this test coming."
"I am not testing you," the sun corrected the bird, "I am curious about what happens before I arrive."

"That does put a different slant on it, thank you, Mr Sun," said the avocet, humbled by the sun's frankness, and moved by the Great Light's desire to talk to her, an insignificant little wader. She paused for a moment on her long, thin legs, before continuing.
"Ok, Mr Sun, I will dredge up my deeper thoughts."
She hesitated, but then took courage. "Today I confess I thought about death," she declared quietly. "Or, not really death. I thought ... I mean, I found that when something dies," she said slowly, "it gives the time it used while living back into the world."

She paused again, not used to talking this much, and also somewhat a-wonder at the wisdoms her questioner was fetching out of her delicately up-turned beak. Then she added,
"I find this each time I eat a hermit crab. As soon as I swallow one, it fills my stomach with time that belonged to it, but which now belongs to me to find the next one."

"Very good, very good," chuckled the sun, as the colours on the lagoon became golden.
The avocet could not help but walk on her stilty legs straight into the stream of gold, because it lay directly in her path. She briefly felt herself disappear completely. It was as if she were being eaten by the light.

'Perhaps this is a bit like what the hermit crabs experience,' she said to herself, 'when they disappear in my warm body.'
But she did not tell this to the sun, who was by now a free ball in the sky, great and silent and beyond the possibility of any further communion.

'I'll save that wise morsel,' thought the avocet. 'Who knows, I may need it in the future?'

- Silke Heiss, 4th April 2020

Image of avocet: African Bird Club

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Pleasant characteristics of Vulture

For yesterday's blogpost I had contacted Tanya Casteel, asking her permission to use her beautiful painting of the bird. She granted me permission after I had posted the blog. Here is her lovely image of Vulture now, imbued, as I see it, with traces of an Aurora Borealis expressed in the hues of eternity -

I have allowed the moment, and Tanya's artwork, to inspire me to read up more on Vulture. Two characteristics that are highlighted are that Vulture naturally shares his food with his own kind - you will not find a vulture greedily gorging itself on its own, before the others can get there. On the contrary, the bird spreads information about where a carcass may be, so that as many as possible of his kind can 'help', so to speak, to clean up.

Secondly, as far as I can tell, it is the only raptor who does not kill other birds. In fact, I hazard to believe those who tell me that it does not kill anything at all.

These are pleasant characteristics to consider when thinking about this mighty bird.

I would like, further, to think that ingesting bones, as vultures are able to, could grant a seer's inner radiance, such as Casteel's image seems to pay homage to. 

Friday, 27 March 2020

Dream of the vulture

I dreamed of a vulture.
She (or he) was immense, perched in a room, or house, full of people.
I did not know the people, but I did not feel a stranger.
I did not know the room or house, but I did not feel uncomfortable.

She was an exquisite specimen, with large wings of feathered ivory. Her neck ruff was a dark chestnut colour. Her head was beautifully sculpted and her eyes were bright, alert and calculating, clearly judging the extent of the space.

I could sense that she wanted to open her wings, but I could not see that it would be possible for her to do so in the constricted area she, and we all, were in.

She was as tall as I was, almost - certainly her body was the same length as mine, but how much stronger than mine by far were her creamy shoulders!

None of my books on animal medicine and symbolism have anything to say on Vulture.
So I searched the web and came upon a page on artist Tanya Casteel's website, with a beautiful image and card (Vulture), and found these words:

"Vulture as a spirit animal symbolises purity, restoring harmony, preventing the spread of disease, and being noticed for what you do instead of how you appear ... Vulture is there to restore harmony to forgotten places."

The great bird is also associated with humbleness - "No job is too small, dirty or unimportant. They all matter!"

I have seen the Egyptian goddess Isis - one of my personally most beloved mythic figures - represented with the powerful wings of a vulture, which she uses to restore breath into her husband's, the god Osiris' vanquished body. The quiet, intent vulture in my dream was perhaps a visitation from that ancient energy serving the cycles of life, who knows?

Francois Forichon, watercolour, 1911

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Wild Voices and Greater Matter - a chronology of purchases and words

Last July, I bought Wild Voices Messages from the Soul of Africa, a beautiful and helpful book and card set. 
I met the author, Anne Keating, at the launch of Greater Matter in October. 
In December, she wrote me the following response. I thank her for her permission to quote her response, as well as to share her poem, Wild Goose
Here is her email:

Hello dear Silke
A stunning, amazing piece of work Silke, wrought from so much god-damn honest pain – flip.
I’ve read it three times and I know I will come back to it.
Thank you.
I want to share some of my story of how I remember Norman ...
With love to you


Here is the poem:


I come to Greater Matter
Who is this woman
Who speaks of Love and Death
Who takes poetry and writes a book
With a beginning, a middle and an end,
and in that order?
Soon I am intrigued captivated absorbed
Sometimes the story holds so much grief
I must close it,
open the small window in my loft for fresh air
Look down to see the living
Branches sway
Gentle Ngunis, halo-horned, moo.
Our lungs easy to fill,
an insult to the struggle I read of
... and I remember the Norman I knew.
The Bard at High Riding
once a near neighbour on the mountain,
Wrote Tim and me a poem about
labyrinths, souls and the wild goose:

Our hand-built labyrinth, “Wild Goose”, radiates between two spreading
This long year so lovingly constructed
concentric earth paths,
tumbled river-stones and lavender
will guide the pilgrim
to the sacred centre
giving succour.
At last we complete the circles, tuck in the last stone

“This deserves an Opening Ceremony, maybe poetry and wine...”
Norman agrees.
He writes:

The soul goes its road:
this way, that
- restless;
a slow spin
to its own heart
- a wild goose
spiralling in
to land.


Dismantled before Silke’s Great Suffering
This labyrinth was a place of joy to many pilgrims.
Guided by the sacred wisdom of the river-stone spirals
They spiralled to their centre.
They found their Wild Goose
And stroked his white neck
with reverence.
Silke, now the Bard at Wild Riding,
through spirals of ache, has watched her “soul goes its road”.
Confounded by pain
Yearning her lover...
Yet, resilient, she now recovers her centre.
Powerful, she holds this place.
With tenderness she strokes
the strong white neck of her Wild Goose.

                                        - Anne Keating

I am, now, no longer at High Riding, but, due to the enforced lock-down I am finally able to engage with and study Wild Voices as I intended to do when I bought it. How I look forward to absorbing myself!

For more information on Anne's book, please visit Wild Voices

If you would like a copy of Greater Matter, please email me at
Alternately, if you would like to order my book via Amazon, please click on this link Greater Matter

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Helped by a hook

This morning, as I walked along the shore of the lagoon, something sharp sank into my foot.
I winced and kicked, and a snag of weeds and fishing tackle spun itself more tightly around my toe.
I pulled out a rusty fishing hook.

In German, when there is a problem, we say, "Wo ist der Haken?"
Where is the hook?

Where is the hook when things don't add up, when they don't make sense. In English, I suppose, the sentiment would be translated as 'where's the catch?'

Among all the different levels of reality there are, most are not immediately apparent.
The hook was not visible in the sand. But once I felt it in my toe, I could see it and remove it and dispose of it safely.

The snag, which keeps tugging at me during these strange, unforeseen days, is: who is there, who still trusts their experience, their own eyes and ears? Who, in the noise of news and numbers, is able still to hear their own impersonal, intuitive voice?

We tunnel in to our laptop and cellphone screens, but the sky does not disappear.

The rusty fishing hook helps me catch myself. For I must be helped to retain a hold on myself in these times.


Friday, 13 March 2020

A gecko amid the boxes

The trailer thankfully fitted through the gate, and ferried over a hundred boxes, and furniture, down the curving driveway under the hazels. Some of the pot plants were wheeled down by hand. I still owe the mover in question a reference - what a formidable team he oversaw.

Our first visitor amid the boxes was a tiny gecko. From behind the kettle his soft, translucent body and gleaming eyes peeped at me. Fearing that he might scald himself against the steel, or perhaps simply out of childish excitement, I tried to catch him and eventually succeeded, though he leaped with his suction pads beautifully, like the lightest little spiderman, from counter to wall to cupboard door.

I let him out among the round and oblong rocks I've lugged with me a second time round now, piled into an attractive feature with succulents and offering ideal hideouts for small dreamers such as he.

The Medicine Cards book, created by Jamie Sams and David Carson, declares Lizard to be the totem animal of Dreaming. Its magic is to dream the future he wants.

It was a baby gecko. Unparented, he knew how vulnerable he was.

The move has taken its toll on my body. I cannot do any physical work now, unless I do it very slowly and deliberately.

Amid the chaos, I dream of dreaming.


Monday, 24 February 2020

No sense of farewell - reflections on the the launch of Sweet Nothings

The manager called to ask, "How many chairs shall we put out, and how would you like them placed?"
The waiter said, "We have created and printed a special menu for you."
Later I saw that he had pinned one onto a board and framed it in his own hand with coki hearts and curlicues.
Guests arrived, including some who had travelled far that day, and the reading began. The rain that had threatened to fall, restrained itself. No thunder disturbed the quiet event.
The gardener, whom I had invited, came on foot.
"I want to walk," he had said, when we'd passed by car and offered him a lift.
He sat all by himself: solitary and composed. When he had finished his meal, he rose and came over to thank me, before leaving.
The others ate and talked together. The owner of the establishment bought one book for himself and one to donate to the library. He asked me to inscribe it: To the people of Hogsback.

Back home, a poem appeared:

After the launch

We sit in the courtyard,
wind hisses through 
the oak trees' leaves,

our voices lift and  fall,
soft and full,
mingling for an evening

I also received a few kind messages, from dear friends, after the event:

"Beautiful evening ...
You sat in your chair like a queen:
Reigning over words
So serene."

"A lovely evening well-spent indeed. Thank you for the gift of the evening, and for the gift of your poetry."

"It was indeed an evening well spent! You managed the evening with style and warmth that we all could take into our beings forever with no sense of farewell."

Indeed. My heart carries all this wherever I go.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Articulating chaos

There are times when the chaos is overwhelming, the tasks too physically demanding, the tangles of relationships too complicated, the past too heavy.

At such times, your hands may not dance over the keyboard. They are diverted from the pen. The notebook, the journal, social media pages, your blogsite - all venues for reflection are pushed aside by the crisis. You are in emergency mode.

Moving house is always a crisis. Moving from the house of your late husband, who lived in it for thirty years, is unspeakable. Truths reside here, which hurt beyond words. You carry them as you must.

You are in a state of permanent shock. Day after day your hands sort, toss, choose, wrap, pack, tape, label, stack.

You are not alone. You have been sent a Beloved, whose kind words and jokes, whose strong arms and able hands you depend on utterly.
You are grateful.
You rise in the night to make order on the page, but your poems are a jumble.
You forgive yourself, are patient.

You pray for the boomslang in the creeper on the chimney. May his life be spared when the pest eradicators come to gas the borer beetles.
Your heart is slow and vulnerable as a slug.


Tuesday, 4 February 2020

The most beautiful expenditure

The word 'expenditure' is usually associated with cost, and thus with loss. But there are losses, which lighten the load I am to myself. The most worthwhile payment you can make in life is that of paying attention. The advantaged child is not the one with better shoes or wealthier parents, but the one who watches and listens closely in class. His exam preparations are minimal compared to the distracted others.

We are seven-tenths water and when we open our consciousness to allow inflow of information, intelligence, wisdom, perception, then that water organises an organic library, in our cells, of sensory experience, which we usually call memory. The attentive person allows themselves to be elementally altered by what is given them by the environment. I lose myself into the things I pay attention to, and so I become a kind of foreign exchange teller, a currency converter, if you like - whereby the words the most beautiful expenditure etch themselves (who knows from where?) into my thought to wake me, and I attend to this foreign thought, permit it to move my body to get up with the dawn, to take a photograph of the tree and mountain silhouette and pale morning star, and then my pen, so you, in turn, may have this, to give your time to, read and ponder.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

My Story, or: Prayer is your body's need

My Story is a fascinating and - for me - relatively new feature on the social media.
It invites users to select from the chaos of each day one or more significant moments, which we consider worth sharing, but only for 24 hours.
As I experimented with the possibilities, I began to impose poems upon images.
Now and then, if I liked them enough, I would save and share them privately.
This is one of them.
It has outlived its 24 hours, probably because it is helpful, at least to me.
Even if you have seen it before (it emerged in October last year) I would be glad if it helps you.

Friday, 10 January 2020

And they lived happily ever after ... or: Start now

Once upon a time, I took a photo of fresh Cape clawless otter spoor at the Cape of Good Hope.
Upon a subsequent time, I painted an otter on a t-shirt.
(I found otter scat in the garden around that same time.)
Then I started a blog, and called it '... follow your footsteps'.
I obeyed and did follow my path.
It was an adventurous time.
My feet climbed a big book. (Greater Matter)
They stumbled upon another one. (Sweet Nothings)
Now the feet are sore.
They need rest.
They are living happily ever after.