Interviewsand Articles


Bird Dreams—Riding Hope: The Old Woman

by Freda Karpf, Aug 22, 2023



drawing: Pavi Mehta

Freda Karpf’s new book came my way thanks to an interview with Jacob Needleman she’d read on She sent me a note and one thing led to another. She'd written a book, Bird Dreams—Riding Hope, and mailed me a copy. Reading it, I wondered how many exceptional artists have to self-publish? It’s always a special joy helping spread the word about a new original voice. Here’s an excerpt. - Richard Whittaker

(from the book's dedication):
Sometimes a fable weaving our connections to birds, meandering rivers and dragons, fermenting miso and consciousness, wetlands, our extended kin and ancestors, our mentors—and Wisdom. Inspired by actual events, a sense of place and belonging by a woman who addresses the reader on behalf of the earth—what follows is dedicated to birds, to the land and waters they touch and fly over; to the people who help save, protect and steward the land and water; and to the many who have loved our home and shared its beauty and wonders. I thank you all for your dedication, for sharing your wisdom and life energy, for passing on the good and sharing the wonder.—Freda Karpf
She looked at me then turned and walked slowly down the path. Then I saw the tulip trees that my mentor must have seen. They were beautiful. But when I looked up, instead of blue sky through the spaces the leaves framed, I saw birds. The leaves were generously broad and a great canvas for the light and shadows to paint. Then I realized that the edges of the leaves had something on them. My eyes slowly focused until I could see them. There were little dragons on the many of the tips of the tulip leaves. They were everywhere.
     And the Old Woman spoke to them. She began to sway slowly as if from the wind’s slight breeze. The tulip leaves gently moved also. The sun shined through the leaves. The light had the chatoyant effect of tiger eyes where light seems to move through the bands of yellows and gold. Some were green with a blue sheen that seemed to stretch as it does when the light hits a piece of labradorite. I felt my body gently swaying as I stood and watched the Old Woman and the dragons move. It felt like I was standing in the middle of a dance floor.
     I often wish I could go back in time and play gin with my mother. That bittersweet yearning sailed past me as I looked up at the dome of leaves and light overhead. Looking into it, I saw that the Old Woman was now looking at me as she continued to move. I exhaled, and only then realized I’d been holding my breath. Only then did I realize every thought that came to me felt like a hawk about to strike. But then it would ease up and I’d come back to the present, left only with afterimages like smoke in my mind, each cleared by the next image.
     The air had a silky texture. It felt cool and refreshing. I saw four great blue herons through the tulip leaves. Then swarms of other birds, varying sizes, going here and there. Then just overhead, a flock split into two directions. As they parted, I could hear their wings make the sound of shaking sheets out in preparation for folding them—another activity with my mother that I missed, walking toward her with the folded sheets. And then I noticed the dragons leaning over the edge of the leaves and looking up. They were so small.
     “But of course they’re small.” I thought. “They have to be, to travel between worlds.”
     The Old Woman was talking to them when I came back to that moment. “Be careful around that one.” Her arm drifted away from pointing at me and continued to sway.
     I looked at her questioningly. (Some of the dragons looked down for a moment, but when birds flew overhead their heads lifted to search through the leaves for them.) I just had to ask her if I belonged to the land here. This whole question of belonging had surfaced with such a passion, so much questioning just about how to be.
     “Well,” she said in response to my thoughts, “everyone has always migrated. Those who have kept to their lands the longest are threatened every day. They hold on as they can. Those who come to new places don’t always love them. They miss their homes. Then they forget what it is to love a place. It’s a big mess.”
     “But do we belong. Can we belong?”
     “Love migrates. Love has seasons. Love moves with the wind and has its favorite watering holes and migration paths.” There was a long pause, as she seemed more interested in looking at the dragons and swaying to whatever moved her—for there was no breeze. Like a vapor escaping her lips, she said, “Everyone belongs. Did you write yet?”
     She remembered. I didn’t know how to answer. I was thinking, “Well, I wrote, yes. But is it writing if nobody reads it?” 
     She laughed without me saying these words. “Silly girl. Silly.”
     Then her arms moved like wings. The dragons seemed to take that as a sign, for they lifted their heads in unison and then flew from the tulip leaves.
     I heard a rush of feathers brushing against the tips of the leaves. And they were gone. And so was the Old Woman...

About the Author

I write about ecology and our relationship to the land and water - with a dollop of magic realism, fantasy and fable. I hope my words and bits support anyone who works toward helping our planet. Together we are mighty. Please visit my site.  


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