We all know the definitions and the way stories portray them. Often there is a villain who spurs the hero into action, saving the victim from an evil fate. The hero becomes the embodiment of the light, the villain of darkness, while the victim hangs somewhere in between, like fulcrum, deciding how the scales will be tipped. Who, then, has the true power?
I have been thinking a lot these days about how and why we choose to be either the victim or the hero in our individual stories and how this reflects upon our collective story of human existence. I have also been thinking about how we define and cast the role of villain in our stories. For some, a villain who fulfills the classic definition of villain-hood is actually lauded as a hero. This casted role depends upon our subjective nature, including how we cast ourselves in our play that is life.
And, must the hero be always wounded first? Would there be a hero without first enduring the wounds? I’m not sure it is possible. We must feel the pain to know it. And would there be a victim without the hero, and a villain without the victim? And, can they all be, in essence, one and the same?
When I think of my own story, I see all the times I tried to become the hero of my own story only to fall back into the role of victimhood. I realize how much my cells have programed the codes of my ancestors. I see how often I have cast people into roles and how these roles have defined them for me. The victim for me was a hero for another. The villain, the victim, and so the cycles goes in an endless round.
So who am I? Last night I found myself inside two vivid dreams. Although they were different scenes, with different players, I found myself embodying a similar role. In one dream, I found myself trapped on an electrified strip of metal while trains raced beside me. One going in each direction, while I scrambled in the middle for a hold. Trying not to get zapped.
In the other dream, I was outside, gazing up into endless blue as I followed the skyline of the buildings beside me. I lay on my back in the middle of a highway, unfazed until I realized where I was. Unfazed until I allowed the program of fear to grip my heart into the belief that I might become a victim if I made a wrong move.
Are we all, in fact playing a game of chess in our lives? Or do we just think we are? One wrong move and we will be obliterated. By what? Fear of the unknown paralyzes our actions as does fear of repeating something from our past. It is hard to reprogram the cells. It is even harder to step into the belief that we can.
Fear is an uncomfortable bedfellow, and yet if we are willing to examine it, to hold it in front of us and look it in the face, it becomes comedic. Its hideous face squishes easy into new forms if we poke and prod it. It’s malleable, because it isn’t really real. It’s simply a shadow of the true self.
Yet how we hold it aloft, knighting it with the mark of hero! So often, we do this, it is impossible to keep track. We need only look at how we hold aloft our leaders. Few are true heroes. Many are villains, and most, if not all, are victims of their own stories, and our collective one. The true hero may be there, but it is deeply cloaked under fear.
Sadly, we are living in a time when true heroism is often overlooked, or even worse, slayed by the villain we like to think is a hero because if we don’t, we worry we too will be slayed. It seems insane, when you examine the play in all its facades, and yet here we are, collectively. Even the darkness resides in those we may think are filled only with light. Should we then be ignoring this complicated, yet simple truth that each role resides in each of us? Should we not acknowledge this truth and work towards compassion for the self and the “other” as we examine how we play each role and how the roles become us?
I think we have no choice but to do so, or the cycle will repeat endlessly in different forms. Otherwise, the victim will never be released from its shackles, forever forced to decide how to tip the scales. The cycle continuing until the victim realizes it is up to her, or him, to remove the chains and realized the hold was self-imposed all along.
At some point we must come to the realization that we are each the villain, the victim, and the hero of our own story. Perhaps we cannot have one without the others, but we can choose which one we will embrace. We can choose what story to write into our cells. And, that story can have a different narrative than the one we wrote yesterday. It’s our story to write. It’s our story to live. It’s our story of life.
It was yet another fitful night in the realm of dreams. Back to school I went. This time to a peculiar college with a new roommate/dream guide. She sat before me, on the opposite bed, after I had tried to parcel out the pieces of her enormous puzzle into boxes on the floor below. Each one containing a jigsaw assortment that somehow went with the one beside it. Three, I believe in total, of interconnected scenes.
She seemed amused by my earnestness. Although she wore the face of teenager, large brown eyes framed by blond tresses, she was clearly wise beyond the years she showed me. Around her neck wrapped a red panda. Her pet? I wasn’t entirely sure how it had gotten into our room and why it was around my roommate’s shoulders like a living scarf, but I was fascinated. It was as though an old friend had come to visit me.
Let me return, for a moment, to the realm of daytime, and set the clock back about four decades. Imagine a little girl with blue eyes and dirty blond hair staring up at a caged enclosure where two red pandas are on display in their zoo-home. The little girl is about seven years old and she has declared those two curious looking pandas her absolute favorite animals in the entire zoo. This zoo that she visits often each summer because her father works there as a landscaper.
The red panda on the upper branch stares back at her, its brown eyes soft with understanding. The little girl is sure the animal can read her mind. She is sure a connection has been formed. Her love for the creature is sealed inside her heart. They share something beyond words. This soft, gentle being who looks more like a tiny bear crossed with a fox has become the girl’s chosen totem, at least for awhile.
The little girl never forgets her love for the red panda, but she moves onto other loves, and other beings fill her heart as she grows. The more visits she makes to the zoo over the summers she flies west to see her father, the more secrets she traps inside of her throat, which becomes wrapped in her growing confusion of truth.
Let’s leap ahead to last night and the return of my quiet and almost forgotten friend who is wrapped around my roommate’s neck. Before I can inquire why it is there, the red panda is suddenly around my own neck. I unwind it carefully, and hold it before me in my hands where I start to examine its soft body. Although the soft animal appeared well and healthy before, it now seems ill. In particular, it’s throat. As I hold it, the red panda coughs and I can see the damage incurred to its throat.
What have I done? Has my own, damaged throat, somehow damaged my beloved childhood totem?
I am filled with despair and worry, but before I try to solve this puzzle, let’s explore the nature of the red panda:
Red pandas are native to Asian countries such as Nepal and China. They make their home in high altitude forests where they are endangered due to human encroachment from deforestation and poaching. Quiet creatures by nature, red pandas are “soft spoken” and introverted creatures. They are closer to the size of a large cat than they are to a panda bear. Like their namesake, though, they depend upon bamboo for their survival. Red pandas are solitary creatures who are most active in the between times of dawn and dusk. They are, I am realizing, an awful lot like me.
Which brings me to the curious puzzle that was now before me on the floor of my dream. Where’s my water dragon? I wonder as I gaze at the head of the wooden dragon held together like a puzzle with interlocking pieces.
I am a water child born under an Earth sign. These two elements drive my nature, but as in all forms, they seek to be balanced. Wood is one of my weaker elements, so perhaps my dream self should not have been baffled by the head of the wooden dragon that now lay at my feet.
Often when we wake from the realm of dreams we must knit together the pieces of our night travels as best we can to make sense of the strange landscape of night. Before I fell into slumber last night, I had been thinking about Elan (often knows as Elan of the Leys or Keeper of the Dragon Lines as she seems to have appeared for my story) and how she made her appearance on the pages of my book, but had left me hanging for weeks as to where she was going to lead me and my characters. As I
drifted into sleep she came to me, finally stepping out of the shadows of the trees to stretch her antlers to the stars. She was showing me the way, if I chose to follow the path beyond the foothold of Earth…
It was 3:30 in the morning when my husband got up to use the bathroom and I woke from an owl peering at me. A Great Horned Owl.
I had been walking at dusk down the roads nearby my house. When I arrived at the crossroads in my dream, I turned towards my left, the direction of home. There he was, getting ready for flight.
You have returned to guide me.
I was sure it was Eagle. I had seen the white of his tail as he stood. The white crown of his head, turned to face me, was unmistakable.
And then he transformed into Owl. Feathered features became nearly camouflaged into the darkening day, but unmistakable were the ears. They were tufted into horns.
She rose to take the place of the one I had depended upon for so long. The bird of great strength and vision. Filled with yang energy, Eagle showed me how to harness the sun and look with keen vision at the world below. The guide of the nation that I call home. A bird sacred to the native people whose voices were silenced, their stories erased. A guide stolen to adorn the new nation. The great horned owl calls us to hear the truth that has been hidden. The truth that many refuse to hear.
I had a lot to think about. So much, that each time I tried to will my mind back to sleep, it would write lines for me to record. And, so, at 4am I rose, thinking of everything that the birds were telling me. Three in total, but more on the third later, as well as the white light blinking over my neighbor’s garage, Strange, it has never done that before, like a beacon in a lighthouse, calling a ship home.
It was all starting to come together.
Yesterday, before I went to bed, I had been cleaning out the office room. Culling through books and dusting shelves before I tackled the plastic storage unit filled with photos and various mementos of memories. I hadn’t sorted it, just added to it, since the year my son was born. That was nearly 15 years ago. Now seemed to be the right time.
To get to it, I had to move pictures resting on the floor and not on our walls. I chose only one to rehang. An owl with tufted ears made over scraps of words by my son years ago. I took a nail and found a place amidst the other art that adorns our stairwell. Choosing a spot a hands-width from the railing, I knew it would be bumped, and might even fall upon someone’s descent. Oh well, I thought. I’ll place it there anyway. Its silver frame standing out amid all the blacks, bumped lightly on my way down this morning.
In the dream that pulled me from sleep, it was not Eagle’s voice who replied, but Owl’s, I am the one guiding you now.
The “you,” felt like a “we.”
A few days ago, I was drawing cards for someone else. Someone who was considering a new path in life that would also affect me and those I hold dear. The first card I drew was the Queen of Cups. The Significator Card. The Queen who has guided me since I shuffled my first Tarot deck many years ago.
It had been awhile since I had been called to bring forth the cards, but they still brought a feeling of home to my hands. There she was, sitting on her throne. Her familiar face gazing upon the chalice in her hands. Her feet, crossed at the ankles, blue like the water around her. Baby mermaids gazing down at her, a cherub nestled, partly hidden, at the base of her throne, while her eyes fix on the golden chalice, too large for one hand, held in her grasp.
Strange, I had never paid much attention to the right foot hiding the left. The left hand touching lightly the hold of the right as it balances the hold of the chalice. So intent she/I was on the vessel.
I have been dreaming about water a lot at night, but that is nothing new. Water is my primary element, followed by earth. It pulls me into my dreams, and into the hidden realms within.
When I woke early this morning from the owl, I knew her to be female. Whereas Eagle embodies the divine masculine energy of the universe, Owl is a master of the divinely feminine forces. Owl rules the night. She sees through the darkness, a guide of the hidden. She asks us to explore the paths we like to hide, guiding us through the shadowland to get back “home” to the true self. She is master of the element of water, whereas eagle, her masculine counter-part, dives by day into the element of water for sustenance when he is not ruling the sky. He is part water and part earth, but mostly he is air and fire.
When Covid-19 started spreading rapidly across our globe, I kept thinking about the fires it was replacing. All those fires ravaging the lands across Earth, extinguishing so much precious life. Feeding fears of survival worldwide.
Now we have a corona viral host trying to nest in our lungs. If it brings death, it feels like drowning. It is nearly undeniable there is a struggle of forces occurring within and outside of us. A struggle for a return to balance.
About a week ago, I had another dream that woke me. I had been walking another path. This one filled with the light of day. Blindly wrapped in my own thoughts, I passed a large doll severed at the waist, and thought of Russian nesting dolls, instead of seeing it for what it was.
It didn’t wait long to catch me. Before I had taken a few steps beyond its severed bottom, the doll took life. The bottom half rejoined the top, and it began to chase me. Look at me? See me! You cannot escape me, it glared into my face. I recognized her by her teeth, long gnashing fangs.
Years ago, I took a shamanic journey to meet fear. I thought I would be afraid at what I saw, but I wasn’t. Instead, I discovered that it was both empowering and a relief to look at the face of my fear. Before me was an almost shapeless form, like a nesting doll, but all black. Its skin glistened like tar. The only feature recognizable as living was its face. Its dominate features were long, white teeth, shaped into fangs.
And so it would appear fear has made her return to me, calling out to be seen. I don’t think I’m alone. There is a global fear, in the form a virus trying to find a host inside of us. It is already taking over life and destroying life as we are used to knowing it.
It is difficult not to feel fear right now. To feel uprooted and insecure. It’s difficult to know what to do, or where to turn to for security and comfort.
Yesterday, while I was taking a shower, I found myself inside the image of a giant redwood tree. There I sat, cradled into the base of her trunk. Held inside this nest created by this mighty tree, rooted firmly to Mother Earth, with her boughs extended towards the sky and sun, I felt safe. I felt home.
Many of us have been washing our hands excessively, using water and soap to rid ourselves of the fears of being contaminated by a virus that is transmitted by salivary excretions. Trying to remove unseen forces that threaten to take hold of our lives. Even if the virus itself has not found a host inside of our bodies, it has found a host inside of our minds.
This fear has severed us at the waist. We are hoarding toilet paper irrationally. The virus does not attack our guts, but our lungs, yet we have allowed ourselves to become uprooted by our fears. We are buying more food then we need, leaving others to go without. We are scrambling for stability while the foundations we have so long depended upon are crumbling around us.
I have been walking a lot outside, as many of us have who are spending time outdoors in nature to try to lesson the communal spread of the disease. When I am outside, I feel connected. The inner joy starts to spark its light within. The roads, these days, are scattered with more people and dogs, then they are with cars. Seeing fellow walkers pass by, fills me with hope. Each time I journey outside, I see or hear a woodpecker. Most days it’s a pileated. Flying over my path, calling form the trees. This is not usually such a common companion to my days, and I am grateful for the gift of its constant, guiding presence. The pileated, which I, have been referring to as my “feathered seer” for nearly three years, has become nearly a constant companion in this time of unrest.
The pileated woodpecker, with its cardinal-like crown of red feathers, and streak of crimson at its throat, has a lot to teach us about fear. The color red is symbolic of fear and also of love. It is the color of our root chakra, and also the color of the blood that gives us life.
I have now seen The Queen of Cups card from Tarot three times in the last three days. Once drawn by my hand, the other two times by people whose blogs I happened to come across. I was not searching for her, but she has found me again. She has found all of us. And, so has Judgement and Fire.
Three times, in the same manner, I have seen the Judgement card and the Two of Wands. I have also seen the fiery wands held in struggle in one path, the air of freedom in another.
There are many ways to read the cards, and one must follow the guidance within to understand their messages in light of the circumstances one is working with. Each time I see the Judgement card, I am given the image of rebirth. The card literally shows naked bodies rising from caskets floating upon water. Could there be a more fitting card for our time?
The word “judgement” is subjective. The human mind judges, the higher mind does not. This card, next to the Two of Wands, strengthens the choice we seem to be offered by this viral pandemic that can be perceived as a harsh, or even cruel, gift. That is the choice of our free will. We can face our fears and explore the shadowland of the self in the path back to unity and balance, igniting the true light along the way, or we can succumb, as we have many times in our collective history, to the fear that severs and divides us.
The Two of Wands literally offers us the world in our hands. The old path, the wand to the right, is being traded for the new/truth path, as the querent takes the staff to his left, while holding the world in the palm of his right hand. He has, it appears, chosen his inner truth to become his new guide. Before him is a land open and fresh, wrapped in the embrace of water. The womb of Mother Earth.
Can we, collectively and individually, make the return to our true roots? Can we face our fears and weave the broken threads of our global community back into unity? Can we clear that which threatens to drown us individually, and realize that we are all, in essence, seeds from the same source? All elements reside inside all of us. There is light, and also darkness. There is the sun, and also the moon. Long, long ago, our ancestors knew that when fire joined in perfect balance with water, united through spirt/air and rooted in earth, the true, divine star of the self thrived.
The birds give me hope. Their paths can guide us back home.
There’s a pose in EM Yoga that I call the “mother hug.” Lauren Walker, the creator of EM Yoga, refers to it as “cradling the baby.” The pose is simple, in essence. The arms are lifted to the sky, then wrapped around the waist, one crossed over the other. Eyes close while the body gently sways in its own embrace. The first time I hugged myself I wept.
Weeping is a natural side effect to the pose, as Lauren points out. Not many of us love ourselves unconditionally, and the act of self-hugging requires a surrender to this love of the self despite our perceived imperfections. It also requires the willingness to love the self despite not feeling wholly beloved. It’s as profoundly vulnerable as it is healing. The asana represents the element of Earth. The Mother energy.
In the pose, you are both the baby and the mother. You are the beloved and the one who gives love unconditionally.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on a (different) massage table inside the belly of a whale. As you may have guessed, it was no ordinary massage. While I lay upon a heated mat of amethyst, crystal bowls sang around me and tuning forks hummed into my cells. I was easily transported, and how I found myself in the belly of a whale, I cannot wholly say, but there I was cradled inside its womb.
I was not merely the baby, I realized, as I lay there listening to whale’s song humming inside each cell of my body. I was the child in the womb, but I was also the mother (whale) who rocked the child within. The mother inside the great mother, swimming in belly of Earth. There was no separation, only union. Three hearts beating as one. I never wanted to leave.
When I was a young child, I fell in love with the song of whales. Around my neck I sometimes wore pewter chiseled into the curve of a humpback whale and listened to recordings of its haunting song echoing through Earth’s waters. Whales pull us back to the womb to feel the unconditional embrace of the Mother.
It seems the whale has returned to me again. A few nights ago I dreamt of a beluga, and since that night it has appeared to me in images each day. When an animal messenger appears to you at least three times, it’s a good idea to pay attention to what it has to tell you.
Beluga whales live in Arctic waters, and perhaps it has appeared to me, in part because I am planning a trip to Iceland. They are white, an unusual color for whales, and are related to the narwhal or “unicorn” whale. They are also related to dolphins and can imitate the human voice. Belugas are fascinating, as all creatures are. And I have been wondering why the one has chosen to appear to me now, and not the beloved humpback whale of my childhood.
There is a solitary nature to humpbacks, which contrasts the more gregarious personality of the beluga. Each time I saw the beluga, in my dream and in the photographs that randomly appeared in the ensuing days, it was raised up vertically, peering at me, as though in greeting. The humpback, in turn, swam through my childhood alone in the dark depths of the ocean, its voice an echo unreturned. As a young child, I felt a kinship to the humpback whale and its song.
Perhaps the beluga is heralding a time of transformation. In my efforts to accept that I will not receive unconditional mother love from my human mother in this lifetime, I have slowly come to the acceptance that the mother love is always within. I am both the mother and the child.
This year has brought another layer of unfolding and acceptance. For the past five years I have made an annual trip to England, a land where I have felt Mother Love like nowhere else. It is a pull that travels though lifetimes, deeply encoded in my cells. Yet, circumstances have unraveled so that a trip this year seems unlikely. I have found myself somewhat surprised that this does not discomfort me more. And, so, I have found myself unwrapping not just the hold of one mother, but of the Mother. Not to reject it, but to feel the knowing that I am whole without the need to be held by the arms of another.
I suspect I am not the only one who finds the “mother hug” as complex as it is simple. I suspect that I am not the only one who has difficulty surrendering to the realization that the beloved is within. Whole and complete. The child and the mother in one form. To wrap your own arms around yourself takes trust in the knowing and a giving into love without conditions. To realize there is no need to look outside, but only within. One hug will not, in all likelihood, render you feeling a complete, unbroken circle. But, perhaps it is worth it once in awhile to give into the physical embrace of the self. To wrap our arms around our wombs and rock the mother and the child whole.
Five days ago my computer died. Like most mornings, I went downstairs, turned on the tea kettle, and opened the lid of my laptop. The screen was blank. I closed the lid and opened it again, because, on occasion, my computer decides not to wake immediately up. Another blank screen greeted me. I hit some keys. Nothing. I held down the power button. No sound. The screen was still blank. I tried it again with the same result. That’s when it occurred to me, my computer had reached the end of its seven year life.
Everything is on my computer. Well, not everything, but there’s more than seven years of photos on it, two complete and at least three partial book manuscripts, countless poems and other writings, and all of my business files. Strangely enough, I didn’t panic when I realized I had a lifeless computer before me. Instead, I went outside and drew in the beauty of the day before me. The sky was blue after the previous evening’s storms, and as my eyes followed the sun streaked trees around my swimming pool, I saw a goldfinch.
I rarely see goldfinches in my yard. We don’t have a feeder, and we get a number of birds, but goldfinches are a rare sight. As I looked at the bird wearing feathers that seemed to mirror the light of the sun, I was filled with a sense that everything would be okay. Soon, one of our resident hummingbirds appeared and she and the goldfinch danced up into the trees. Joy filled my being. How bold this tiny bird was, I thought, chasing after the sun.
Perhaps, I thought, my day would be better spent away from the screen. I also knew nothing, in essence, was really lost. Even if by some strange circumstance the ephemeral “cloud” that stores my computer’s data had also disappeared, and my portable backup was empty, I still had all I needed.
I never bothered to check the cloud, and took two days to check the backup unit. It was oddly and wonderfully freeing, in many ways, not to be tied to the data of this electronic device that was frequently a large part of my daily routine. Sure, I eventually checked my email and social media on my phone. A day or two later, I logged into an even older laptop to start working on some flyers for upcoming yoga classes (since I discovered I had not actually backed up my computer in at least eight months), and wrote a blog post .
Each time I had a fleeting worry that something I needed may have been lost, a solution seemed to rise above it and overpower it with truth. I somehow remembered passwords I hadn’t used in years, and discovered I had written down others. The same day I wrote a blog post, I also decided to change the name of my blog. An idea that I had been contemplating for many months decided to press its way into reality. Instead of contemplating the how, I followed the path of clues before me, and in a matter of minutes I discovered I had, in fact, successfully and nearly effortlessly, changed the name of my blog to one that felt more in resonance with my truth, and, at the same time, affordably upgraded my WordPress plan. My blog, like my computer, had felt near the end of its life. Each time I would upload a new photo I would wonder if it would be the one that would exceed the ever- approaching limit of storage.
Now, in front of me, I had “The Light Behind the Story,” with an enhanced capacity to hold words and images. And, I had somehow accomplished this on a computer that should have been dead by now.
Last night, after we took our daughter out to dinner (my son was at an amusement park with friends), she drove us to the mall so we could browse the selection of computers at the electronics store. By now my husband had drawn the conclusion that my motherboard must be fried. Likely, he thought, due to the storms that occurred during the night of my computer’s demise. I was not wholly convinced that it was my the storm’s fault, even though I had left the laptop on and plugged into the surge protector, which also held my phone and watch. They had faired fine. As had every other electronic still plugged into our home’s energy source. Not even the clocks had flickered. “You’re computer is old, though,” my husband insisted. Seven years didn’t seem that old to me…
So, here we were, browsing the latest and greatest computers with my eager daughter. She has a significant birthday coming up, which happens to be near Christmas, so there has been talk of her getting a laptop as well. A kind and knowledgable tech offered to take us through the basics, and I allowed myself to sweep into the marvels of the technology before me. The displays were impressive, to say the least. The capability of the machines before me much greater than the one that now appeared to be dead.
After perhaps ten minutes, we thanked our gracious host and continued on our way. And, as we did, I found my mind not lingering upon what we had left behind. It didn’t matter if I had one of those new units that day, next week, or years from now. I knew I would enjoy it (although I was sure not to its fullest capacity), but it was not an essential component to my being.
On the ride home, my daughter drove us to one more stop so we could buy two rose bushes, one yellow and one purple, that I had seen earlier in the day. They were half-price and my husband did not want to miss the opportunity. It took mere minutes. The roses, side-by-side, were where I had remembered them, in the midst of hundreds of others. As we continued our drive home, I thought about the roses and not about the computers left behind at the store, or the one dead at home. The vision of my late summer garden filled the canvas of my mind, and I picked through the weeds and looked for open spots where the beauty of new life would enhance the landscape.
When we arrived back home, I lifted the roses out of the car and nestled them in for the night on our front porch beside the mums I had purchased earlier in the day. “Well look at that!” my husband declared as he unlocked the dogs, “All three of them are here to greet us.” Eagerly awaiting our arrival, were our two dogs, Rosy and Zelda, along with Millie, our no-longer-a-kitten-but-still-very-spoiled-cat. I had hesitated making the brief stop for the roses on the ride home, worried that the sky was fast-darkening as I wondered if Millie had made her way indoors yet.
As I got out the sliced turkey to feed the well-trained pets their treat, my husband rushed down to shut the cat door and give Yoda, our 12-year-old cat-who-doesn’t-like-the-dogs-or-turkey, some cat treats. After everyone was settled, I turned on the TV to watch an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” while my husband got out some tools to open the body of my dead laptop.
I barely noticed his tinkering beside me as I watched my show. Glancing, once or twice with indifference at the insides that held the memories of the past seven years and more. A couple of times I heard my husband blow air through puckered lips into the circuits, while fleeting thoughts of snacks consumed as I typed passed through my mind.
I didn’t notice when the insides had been put back inside the shell, or when the lid had been lifted. Instead, I was snuggled into my blanket enjoying the scene playing out on another screen.
My tired eyes moved over to the space beside me where my dead computer was now very much alive upon my husband’s lap. It’s familiar face coming back into focus.
“It was pretty dirty. It must have been all the dust. Maybe something got disconnected…” The moment seemed surreal, and oddly plausible at the same time. I was surprised, but I wasn’t, just like my husband seemed to be, as I realized this problem, that had never in fact really been a problem, was now fixed. The how and why a mystery that really didn’t need to be solved.
And, so here I am the next morning, typing away on my not-dead-computer as I sip the last of my morning’s tea. Halfway through writing this post, my son came downstairs and I paused to talk to him, and, during our conversation, let our excited dogs outside. In my distraction of catching up with my son, I barely noticed the barking, until it grew instead of ceased. Annoyance began to build as I followed my son to the window to see what the fuss was all about.
“It’s a deer!” my son announced in audible awe. There, before us, was a magnificent doe, mere feet from the fence where our two dogs were barking away at it. Completely unfazed as it munched away at the fallen apples below the tree.
Miraculously, the dogs left the deer for the promise of treats, and I closed the door and returned to the window with my son to marvel at the gift before us. The deer stayed for several minutes, looking at us through the window, then back to the apples before her. She was in no rush as she ate her fallen breakfast, unfazed by our presence, just has she had been by our barking dogs. Unfazed by my voice talking through the open window. “Aren’t you beautiful,” I told her. “Go ahead. Eat the apples. Aren’t you beautiful!”
Like the goldfinch, hummingbird, and the roses, the deer now before me was another symbol of life. Real life. An immeasurable gift. Her presence not separate, but a part of the greater dance that joins us all. The dogs, my son, myself, and all that surrounds us. It had been more than worth the pause in the writing of this post on my newly revived computer. This call to pause and engage in the flow of joy that is life.
As my husband and I continued our journey up the quiet mountain, I stopped now and then to place my offering of tobacco leaves in the nooks of trees and rocks. Noting, as I did, how sometimes others had made their own offerings. Small and large stones nestled into crevices of wood and stone, along with the more permanent and not so mindful markings of names carved into the skin of trees. I saw the carvings as a sad reflection of the ego’s need for permanence, forgetting that the mark that lingers is a mere shadow of the true self that never dies. How we yearn for something that is false, so often forgetting the harmony that beats around us. I found the buzz of the mosquitos oddly comforting, in its reminder of the cycles of life. The sacred spring below having given birth to the insects that followed my footsteps along a path older than the trees surrounding me.
The mountain remained, to me, quiet and reserved. Welcoming, yet not offering too much. Not yet. This was my first visit, after all, and as the miles slowly rose, I realized that I would likely return someday. Perhaps not to the same trail. Perhaps not with the same companion. I didn’t yet know, and that was okay.
Life cycles as it will, and it behooves us to allow it to play its rhythm without resistance. When we push, we are often met with a counter-push. A simple law of physics. Perhaps this is why the snake appeared. Not once, but twice, as we hiked the long, winding trail, slowly losing the mosquitos as we gained elevation.
I have found the snake to be a frequent messenger that appears at points in the cycle of life that call for a surrendering. A letting go of the old “skin” I choose to wear to make way for the new, lighter sheath. They remind one of the wheel, ever-turning. Endings moving into beginnings, endlessly repeating.
I had thought that the mountain might harbor hurt. A long held wound from the legend of the chief who fell from its summit. Cursing, as he met death, the white man who had poisoned his son. As I walked the first half of the mountain, I found that I was also, in essence, curing the “white man” who had felled all the trees, and placed the wall of stone beside the path of the sacred waters. Yet, as the snake reminded me (twice), time moves on, whether we allow it to or not, without judgement. The cycle weaves its circle of life and death, over and over again, and we can be a part of it, or we can use defiance to try to resist its flow.
I could not forget that I had breathed acceptance into my body before I had left my hometown that morning. There are no true accidents to life. I realized, as I walked, that it mattered little, if at all, that I was not seeing the faces of the long passed in the rocks, or feeling the pull of the familiar through my cells. Instead, there was that quiet harmony of belonging. Of being present with my beloved in human form, and the sacred landscape around us.
There was no denying the many gifts that had been offered. The crow who had welcomed us, the “ghosts” beside the stream, the white feather in the path before the call of my feathered seer, the snakes of renewal, and even the mosquitos buzzing life. There were also berries, full and ripened to the deepest blue of truth as we approached the final mile. Tempering greed, we reached, now and then, to pick small handfuls of the fruit and felt the renewal of life in each magnificent bite. Agreeing that there was never a better blueberry than those grown on the nearly soilless top of this mountain. A grateful gift that was even more welcomed when we discovered how little water we had left and how warm it had become during our journey, as well as how unsatisfying the apples were that we had brought. Mealy and soft, whereas our mouths hungered for a cool, crisp bite. I thanked the land for the blueberries as I offered it more tobacco in return.
As we sat on the granite ledges and took in the views of the landscape around us, my husband and I noted the time and how far we had come. We felt the ache of the climb in our bodies and the hunger in our bellies. Ahead of us was the head of Chocorua, perhaps another half mile away, we could not be sure. Its side looked steep and a bit dangerous as we realized we would either have to make our way around it to find a more gentle side, or allow ourselves to finish our journey below its peak. I was surprised that I did not feel disappointment. That there was no resentment bubbling up inside at the possibility of not “completing” our journey. Instead, I felt acceptance. It was enough, all of it.
We did not turn around then, though, but decided to walk a little further. I was grateful, as we continued on for this small final leg of our journey forward, for the soft presence of the land and it’s hallowed feel. For the berries that continued along our way, and for the knowing that we had just enough daylight ahead of us to get back down, and just enough water to quench our thirst if we needed it. I thought of that sacred stream and the yearning of my body to feel its cool release. And, as I turned my gaze one last time to follow the path of a vulture around the neck of the mountain, the mighty bird moved toward a cloud that hovered beside the rock face. Perhaps it was my imagination, but to me it looked like the head of a chief in profile. Its face pointing away from the summit that would need to wait for another day.
I had brought one more thing for my journey, which was not mentioned in Part 2. In the pocket of my shorts was a small bag stuffed with tobacco, the procuring of which is a small story by itself. When I asked my friend Darlene what I should bring for an offering, her definitive answer was “tobacco.” There was no budging her, but I tried. The thought of buying a tin of tobacco, or a packet of cigarettes, filled me with mild terror. Irrational perhaps, but a childhood that involved the illegal growing and smoking of “pot” by my parental figures turned me against all manner of smoking. The only cigarette I’ve smoked was in one very vivid dream. That was enough for me.
So, here I was faced with one of many tests during this journey, before it even started. How to procure some tobacco. And, as I was thinking about how best to find some, a little voice inside my head came to the rescue with one word, “Etsy.” You can find just about anything on Etsy and sure enough a quick search led me to a source of natural tobacco. Perfect. I could handle buying tobacco safely through the internet with the happy knowing that it would be packaged as pure, unadulterated leaves. My little bag of tobacco arrived within a couple days of ordering, accompanied by a lovely handmade floral magnet. I had my offering.
Which, as I walked along the wooded trail filled with mosquitos, kept creeping out of my shallow pocket until it finally dropped somewhere not too far away from the white feather. Like the crow, the feather seemed perfectly placed before me, another sign often found during my journeys. And, although I had yet to feel the familiar nudging of spirit through my left hand, which may be because it was too busy grasping a walking pole, I took it as another positive omen that I was on the “right path.”
It is sometimes said that true signs come in sets of three, and number three that day came in the form of a song. Sharp and sudden the voice of the pileated woodpecker pierced the silence surrounding us. Once again I found my breath stop inside my throat. My “feathered seer had appeared. I should not have been surprised, but somehow I had forgotten the dream of this sacred messenger seven months before when it flew before me atop a “Native American hill.” Looking into my eyes with the message, “Don’t be afraid to see.” Weeks later, I had met Chocorua capped in snow. And now, here I was upon its oldest trail.
Funny how the mind works, only now I am recalling the dream through my old blog post. Putting the pieces together as I write. “Do not be afraid to see.” I had been thinking, as I walked, how much I was trying to see with my outer sight. The bent trees to give me clues to the sacred places. The faces in stone. “Are the bugs flying into your eyes?” I eventually asked my husband through frustration as I every time I brought my sunglass to rest atop my head, my eyes became magnets to the swarming insects.
No doubt another messenger, but not a wholly welcome one. Sometimes we try too hard to “see” outside of us. I am thinking of the “ghosts” I glimpsed while walking beside stream that felt sacred at the base of the mountain. I had felt the impulse to pause. To look back as the outer eyes blurred to the inner. And there they were, a small group of people from the time before white men, gathered at the waters, their heads turned slightly sideways towards me. “We see you,” they seemed to be offering in a welcome without judgement.
I did not linger, but took the gift of their presence and tucked it inside. It would be a mostly quiet walk. The other hikers not making their presence known until 2/3 of our way to our destination. Instead, we had one more messenger waiting to greet us as we worked our way uphill through the heat and bugs.
The plan was to stop for brunch along the way, but our late departure called for lunch. I hinted at the opportunity to save more time by picking up sandwiches, but my husband’s quiet response told me he had his heart set on a sit-down meal. As we neared our destination, we spotted a diner offering “All day breakfast” inside a homey log cabin facade, so we pulled in beside a queue of locals.
A “cash only” diner, the service was friendly and quick. The food ample and satisfying. And, there were bathrooms, which might not have been available had we followed my meager suggestion of “just grabbing sandwiches.” Later, I would be grateful for the full meal, only wishing it had been less laden with sodium, and those bathrooms.
We pulled into the dirt road leading to the trailhead at about 1:30pm, and found ourselves face-to-face with our first messenger of the day. A large crow sat in the middle of the roadside looking staring at us through the windshield. I sucked in large gulp of air as it raised its black wings into the air. Flying towards us, and then away, before it disappeared into the woods where we would soon future. My husband turned to me, “Is that a good sign or a bad one?”
Crows have a way of preceding my arrival in magical landscapes, and the presence of this one did not seem to be a coincidence.
The parking lot, if you can call it that, was full with five cars, so we squeezed over on the side of the dirt road, nestling in behind a large pine. We gathered our two, not quite full, metal water bottles and stuffed them into the sides of our backpack, which also held a small first aid kit, two granola bars, two apples, and a can of animal deterrent spray. Just in case. As we pulled our hiking poles out of the back of the car, I spotted the bug spray I always keep in the trunk and threw it into the pack. Just in case.
It wasn’t long before the bug repellent made its way out of the pack as we stopped about 1/8 of a mile into the trail to shower our heads from the invading army that buzzed around our ears. “The comments said the trail was buggy and to bring DEET,” my husband offered belatedly. Our spray did not contain DEET, and proved to be less effective than my sunglasses, which did a fine job of keeping the invaders from diving in for a swim in my eyes as long as I kept them over the bridge of my nose.
I had let my husband worry about the minor details, you know: getting to the trailhead, figuring out how steep the climb was, and how many miles the Hammond Trail was…while I had let my head fill only with the legend of Chief Chocorua. Which meant neither one of us had really and truly prepared for the full journey of eight miles it would take to reach the summit of the mountain via Hammond, followed by, we soon discovered, another trail or two, doubling our anticipated hike. I was soon thinking about the four miles to the summit the sign had promised, and four back to the car on this hot, humid July afternoon. Our lodging for the night another half hour car ride away.
We are not regular hikers. Instead, we are those intermittent types. Dragging the teenagers up a modest mountain or two maybe once a year, and every other year or so getting a chance to climb without them. Eight miles. I tried to do the math in my head as I walked along the buggy trail that was eerily quite aside from the mosquitoes whining in my ears. How long would it take us? And, would we make it to the top?
It was yet another place I didn’t want to leave. Whereas I had felt the exhilaration of life at Castle Hill, the more I immersed myself into the energy of Wayland’s Smithy, the more I felt at peace. As the sun wove its golden light through the guardian trees, I walked over the long barrow and around it. Time slipped away and the veil thinned. The air was gently electrified, and I could feel the elemental kingdom and all the guardians of this sacred site watching, but also welcoming us. Below my feet, amid the last year’s fallen leaves, white feathers appeared on the path.
I was, without a doubt, walking holy ground in a landscape of the dead that was very much alive, revered and protected by forces more felt than seen.
“Look at the trees,” Larissa remarked. “Each one has a patch of white flowers.” Not planted, but growing as though in nature’s reverence. It felt like magic, in the purest sense. Each piece a deliberate part of the whole. And, as I walked, I could hear the whisper of the ancient stones.
Pairs appeared in stasis, like long married couples set in their ways, yet determined to protect the love they hold.
It’s quite something to think of the work and care that went into the construction of this long barrow. A tomb to house the dead whose bodies were prepared with care that rivals that bestowed upon the pharaohs of Egypt. A tomb supported with carefully selected and placed stones. Huge sarsens, like that of Long Meg, mark the entrance to the inner chamber of the long barrow. All this work, including the massive stones, once covered entirely in earth. A house built for the dead, 196 feet in length and 50 feet at its widest point.
“You need to leave a piece of silver for Wayland,” Sue revealed as we gathered before the entrance. “To shod your horse.” I didn’t question her words. I had silver in my pocket and I crawled inside the chamber to find a place for it.
“Can you find Wayland, the spirit stone, the totem stone?” Sue continued as we peered at the massive rocks before us. The faces on their surfaces morphing and changing with each angle. All for the dead…
Then Sue began to tell us the story of a visitor before us who had asked a question of one of the sarsens. Within moments his answer had appeared in physical form and still holds true to this day. While she spoke, I watched a bee circle around me. A February bee, but I had already seen two butterflies during my visit to England, so perhaps it was not too unusual…It made me think of the buzzing I had heard, low, but constant, as we were walking the path from the car to Wayland’s.
I chose my stone, as the bee continued to circle my neck, and pressed my forehead upon its surface. I didn’t have a question. Instead, I wanted only to receive whatever might be revealed to me.
The mound appeared before me in the full splendor of summer. Upon its green back, a white horse emerged, strong and sure. It stopped in wait as a figure cloaked in white descended and began to walk toward me. The landscape opened to beyond the barrow, to where people long passed gathered inside a great womb. I saw the path weaving in union between the land of land of the living and the land of the death. It became a processional of people coming towards the barrow. In the middle of the trail I saw a small circle of stones.
The visitors gathered around the mound of Earth, upon which the white horse stood with the figure cloaked in white. I could not see her face, but I knew her energy to be both feminine and strong.
The vision turned inward, and I felt as though I had entered an inner chamber. A shadowed form of a great bear appeared beside me, then morphed into a great serpent whose head rose behind mine. In front of me, a hawk of the sun passed before my vision, circling until all disappeared and I felt my body again. Each cell buzzing with renewed life, as though in those few moments of connection I had been washed with light.
It was soon time to leave, but before we left we placed more offerings for the spirits of the stones. It has been a true gift of a day. Full and complete in and of itself, even though it was just an hour passed noon.
As we collected ourselves back into the car, even Ani appeared withdrawn into her own thoughts, refusing the small bits of sandwich we offered her. Each one of us quietly processing our return in our own way as we paused before our descent back into town.
To read the rest of the posts in this series, please click the links below:
I used to keep a journal just for animal encounters. Not just animals, insects too, and birds, and all manner of non-human life forms I met up with each day. I was interested in their symbolism and what it might mean to me. Synchronicities and patterns. The universe talking in code. I used to do a lot of things I no longer do, and these days I am acutely aware of how much I am allowing myself to be wrapped up in the mundane, favoring it over the magic of life. Not because I want to, but because I have somehow convinced myself that I must. I must search not for encounters, but for artificial messages. Messages that I must send to get readers for my new book. It is a task I do not like, but that in itself is a lesson and, therefore, a gift. How do I make magic out of the mundane? Somedays it’s easier than others.
When the jobs we feel we must do become a chore, should we continue on in toil, or should we pause and breathe into the depth of being to find the magic contained within the moment that is always offered to us? The moment upon which we trail our breath and our thoughts, whether they be rapid, or peaceful? Today there were many encounters throughout my day which felt forced, labored, without fruit. Yet, there were also pauses when I stopped to be present.
I watched the squirrel, boldly wearing red fur as it masqueraded as an acrobat climbing up, then down my apple tree stealing apples in its mouth and leaping through limbs as though gravity was a ruse. I could almost believe anything was possible until I returned to the drudgery of musts. “You must do this to sell books.” “You must do that.”
The voice inside my heart forever whispering against the pull of musts, “just let it be.” “They’ll find the words you wrote for them, somehow.” I don’t always believe in somehows, but the voice inside me tells me I should.
The crow that stopped my feet today was dead. Its head pointed downhill. Black feathers tucked above the vibrant green of grass on this sunless day. I couldn’t help but think of magic extinguished. It had fallen beneath wires. Was it electrocuted by too much force? Energy coursing outside its bounds? The owl had been found in nearly the same place, also dead, one month before. I cannot help but think of the two bird messengers in my book. Grandmother Crow. The owl who haunts the last pages with a warning…
Yet death, I am reminded by yesterday’s snake, is not an end, but a beginning. Decayed life breeds new life in that ever-lasting cycle. How can I forget the wisdom of Shesha? Did I not write his story upon the pages too?
Briefly, today, I thought about fairies. Sue had reblogged a post about the fey and for some wonderful moments, I was transported into the realm of magic not often seen. Perhaps that was why I was lead by the turkey feather, which floated up from the blackened road as though wanting to be seen. To be caught, as I drove home. So I took the ever-willing dog for a walk, and there it was still. In the middle of the road. Large, curved and perfect. Banded in brown. A solitary turkey feather waiting for my hand to receive its gift.
So I twirled it in my fingers, feeling the life still present. Blessed life. A reminder of abundance. Down the road, a red fox wandered from the twilight woods and stopped to fix my gaze. We stared as though each daring movement, until a car passed by. Some say foxes hold the secrets of the fey. Cunning, bold, stealthy. Red, like the squirrel. Have I lost touch with the red blood of Earth? I wrote the words in this book, in part, to save her. Created six warriors with a mission to repair her broken veins, forgetting, after I had finished, that one must care for the inner body, always, while caring for the outer. And so I look back upon today. To the red squirrel taking with ease the fruit of the apple back to its nest. The dead crow charged with too much power. The lone turkey feather in the middle of the road. One perfect blessing waiting to be held. And the red fox, who had ventured, for a moment, out of the hidden realm to say hello.