A Desert Fairy Tale: The Ringtail Woman
I cannot speak, a constant murmuring,
calling the rain from my dry bones,
and syllables from the marrow…
Twined together, root to root,
sap seeping from flesh,
the Wood Wife plants me in the soil
and give me language once again.”
-Terri Windling, The Wood Wife
Very often, we may unconsciously place fairy tales in the in the green rolling hills of Ireland or the dark forests of Germany, but in truth, stories of magic spring from every land. Nowhere is this more true than the deserts and mountains of the enchanted Southwest. The vibrant blend of cultures here can create tales of surprising power and beauty. When I first came to the Southwest over a decade ago, and met the Palo Verde, Ocotillo, and Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert where I was living at the time, I was immediately entranced by the intensity of the plants and land there. Living here in the Saliz mountains of sw New Mexico has only heightened and deepened this experience.
Back in my first days exploring the desert, Terri Windling’s novel, The Wood Wife, set in the Rincon Mountains outside of Tucson, acted as a kind of atlas to the mythic and botanical terrain around me. Many years later, this book still delights me, especially the character of the Spine Witch, whose kiss on human eyelids brings a deeper sight of the landscape and the spirits that inhabit it. While we sometimes think of deserts as barren, in reality, they’re some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, fostering an incredible variety of plants, animals, stories, and magic.
Artist Rebekah Klitzke of Mulberry Mudd is incredibly gifted at evoking the spirit of the Fae of any landscape, and especially the botanical elements inherent to each place. She created this gorgeous sculpture for me of a creature part plant spirit, part Ringtail Cat, and part storytelling woman. As you can see in the pictures below, she holds an acorn and wears the leaves of our native evergreen Emory Oak, the prickly spines of the Walking Stick Cholla, and the blossoms, thorns and leaves of the Wild Rose. Her skin is made from the colors of our volcanic cliffs, and the bones of tiny animals adorn her Ringtail ears. There’s something of Terri Windling’s Spine Witch in her, as well as a good deal of myself. I’m altogether in love with her, and presides over our den, looking down over my desk as I write and work. If you listen closely late at night, and somewhere near dawn, you might hear her telling the stories of the wild forests, deserts, and mountains she belongs to.
Here she is with the backdrop of the Canyon’s sacred cliffs, her skin and hair reflecting the colors of the volcanic rock all around her.
If you look closely you can see the Cholla spines on her lower right side, the Emory Oak leaves on her left side, and the delicate bones dangling from her ears.
This angle shows off the Wild Rose blooming from her body, and the leaves and thorns wrapped around her arm and hands, as well as her gorgeous Ringtail Cat tail.
~~~~All images ©2012 Jesse Wolf Hardin~~~