“I am convinced that if nobody had ever invented knots,
nobody would ever have imagined magicians.”
~ T.H. White, quoted in ‘H Is for Hawk’ by Helen MacDonald ~
Some stories need to be told.
Some to rest, marinate and ripen.
Some lives are lived in the blink of an eyelash…
Into the darkening arc towards winter we go. An undoing time.
The cailleach's cloak stretches, shrouding the land.
A time for stillness, for stories to be carried to life on the tongue,
a time for the hearth's heat and the land’s deep dreaming of us.
Dear reader…throughout the dark half of the year, between the silences we choose I will be dropping a few stories into this blog space. Let them be a finger pointing to the moon. A feasting of opposites. Anchor heavy, numinous and pneumatic in their weightlessness.
A common twining of threads links these stories; the land, loss and grace.
They could appear to follow a chronology, and it will not be a linear one.
May they gift you in some way…especially the ones that entangled you.
Dear Reader – the space between the words carries more than the words. Listen...
At the asphalt’s edge, the trail opens leading into the layers of milked sunlight and November’s decay. Once golden, now frost-dark popple leaves lie grounded as discarded black hearts. This trail and semi-frozen still life/land has drawn me into the forest’s naked thickness, has set me upon the rim of my inland sea these past three days. I feel the trail below, solid, real, but barely. A boreal chickadee defies the crush of decay, bulleting joy through the birch. I know the way.
We feel her, boots treading firmly over the wet, leaf strewn path of us. We are an ancestry of rock and earth, intention and sweat. We are three feet wide and seven miles long paying homage to all four directions as we wind through woods of white birch, cedar, silver birch and pine. Sleuth like we trail the shore of the Great Sea, staying close from a distance. We are the difference between bush-whacking and aimlessness. We are a way. In. Through. And out of the woods. We have seen more than you'd imagine, down here, low to the ground.
I am lighter today. The cleansing has begun, thanks to the land, the lake, and time. The grief-pain coloring my blood courses thick and viscous and yet it is less than the flume of grace inside me now. My boots hit the earth, the underbelly of my soles meeting the crushed lunar gravel of the trail…keeping rhythm. My breath comes deeper, further and I choke on the unanswered question thrum, thrum, thrumming in me.
We are bombarded by feet, feet in droves; young spry feet that barely skim over us as they frisk along, feet with a purpose, boot clad, intentionally trekking with their accompanying voices contemplating the best local produce. Some days there are solo feet, silent and pensive; loving feet, lollygagging feet, angry feet, paw and hoof feet and closed up tight as-a-drum-feet. Summers are endless feet, all the busy-ness of hikers and holiday-makers, badger, deer, coyote, coon but by November traffic ebbs. And we wait, anticipating those who step out on to us before winter’s soft, numbing slumber. On this brisk, late November morning we are glad of her feet, again. For the past few days she has been the only one to come.
I am this trail, the rise and fall of it, the reaching tall cathedral birch of it, I am these white tree limbs lying broken bone like scattered on a battlefield. I am the trail’s proximity to the Lake. The paws, claws and snake belly of it. My eyes stray and stay downward, noticing my boots rimmed in cold mud, eyeing my footprints from the days before. I was here. I am here. I will be here. My feet fall square and heavy, slow and thick but my mind spins and flashes like a top. Three weeks ago my lover and I danced a masked All Hallow's Eve waltz, unmasked we made love, and made pure we nestled into that love afterwards. Cooing into each other with our feet tangled we easily fell. Into sleep. Into love.
Now his feet are ash, and I am the love knot remaining.
We feel her heaviness, her otherness and the strong light within, shimmer, simmering. The weight of her presses into us, smoothing the sharp stones of us. Her story of loss and grace bleed through her into us. We feel him. There in the side car of her aura, loving her, wanting to help. Asking questions.
That night, our last, I was just drifting into the limbic space before sleep. We were two warm hearts quietly beating in one bed, two mouths breathing, ebbing, flowing with the sprouting promise of us. From just under the lintel of sleep I was pulled back to waking by something, by an unsound that opened into the greatest sea of all. It rolled on into an empty silence, except for my heartbeat pounding alone. I was wide awake. He slept on infinitely.
Now I walk through the trees with my 700 pound heart, heavy, altered and this whirly-gig mind on the trail, the path we had planned to hike one day. For three days I've come, pushing slush earth, plowing my grief, stomping, wailing, rejoicing and planting salt tears as seeds. Now I move forward, one step, after the other, open, seeking Ceremony, beseeching God and him to fill me with grace, and to make me invisible. Praying to be seen and pleading for one, just one outrageous grief induced miracle…a conception.
But today I bleed – the third day on the trail, my blood flows out. Delusion. Illusion. Dissolution.
He is here. Wrapping around her like a brightly colored Guatemalan scarf. Disheveled, disoriented, determined, loving her through the veil. The wounded animal of her pounds the wet soil, cries out to him, to us, to All. We call on the cedar, the long wet branches around to surround her, doubly cloaking her, wrapping her in the leafy hubris of life and death. She walks - lamenting, celebrating, singing to the forest. With the vacant hunger of an initiate from silver birch to white birch she roves like a winter butterfly, rubbing her open wings on the smooth iridescence, pollinating her pain with grace that would later blossom and bear fruit.
And we watch... as she, in her wooded solitude reaches down, dips into her core and draws her moon pointing finger out - bloodied
And we watch ... as she presses a small perfect heart onto the blank canvas of a white birch. She leans into the tree, whispering, incanting, glowing. A gift to us, to him, to All.
Five months and 36 inches of white Superior snow since I last walked the trail. I’m here again, with a new light-fueled intensity. Yesterday on the North shore we released his body’s ash; the earth-loving dust of his 21st Century vessel spread wide into his beloved Great Mother Lake. His tribe gathered, witnessing this next journey as for 27 seconds air and water and sunlight merged into one as his ash traveled from his children’s pink warm hands, off the crust of land, through the wide unspeakably April-blue, into the fluid Mystery - into Gitchigamie.
I am revisiting the trail, the snow is gone, the swollen, rush of creek water intersecting the trail has ebbed. The trail is clear.
We are thawing, numb and mute.
Today is to integrate yesterday. His day. To flow and feel the woods gather around me, to feel the gravel, clay, loam and red sandstone bedrock endlessly solid beneath my feet. I bow low honoring this budding of life, the soft song of a tufted titmouse, the murmur of ravens. Honoring this soon to be life-filled woods. This Greater Lake. To the space between the layers of grace and grief. To the enormously minute growth from there to here. It is spring. I am becoming something fluid, new and winged and golden.
Like the ring of the sunrise bell we feel her foot falls and rouse from our silent slumber, straining for nourishment to our cold, quiet waiting. She is the breaking of a long winter’s fast. We recognize her…barely. The weight of grief that she wore like a tight knotted shroud then, now drapes loose flowing behind her. There is fire in her eyes and an other-worldliness about her, as she steps like a fallen angel melting the iced pools of mud. Still waking we watch her move, her eyes wide over the just emerging ribbon of us.
Remembering my last visit, the wailing and rejoicing and the precious offering I’d left behind - the small blood heart. How had it fared over the winter? Could I find the tree? Was it real? Was I? I was here now and drifting with the bony branches fat with promise, grounding to this cusp of land at the edge of a sea. Assimilation. Sublimation. Reclamation. He was the sap rising, the waves crashing, a chambers-full heart beating within me. The trail rose, budding and sunlit. A familiar path. The same yet so very different.
It was all coming back to us, the past – her heavy footed November death march, her dance with the trees, her grief crushing the fallen leaves of cedar and popple as her blood flowed, as she marked her place, her love in the world. We feel her desire to find her marking and then feel her let it go. We all let go. We watch her gaze into the space between the trees. Up then, and out seeking sun, sky and the new life dancing up off the dirt of death.
The day was bright and I lifted myself into it. The new life birthing all around charmed and soothed the familiar dead corners, square and patient in me. My attention for the first time in months was balanced between both sky and earth. New life distracted me from my search and I let go of seeking. I let go of seeking. Did it matter that last November’s blood stained the trees? Did I need to see it to believe it? No. The trail’s hoarse voice rang “You are the heart and the blood and the bark and the blue and he is the lake and the air that seeps, gushing into your hungry lungs.” I became in that moment the space impressed by the four directions, I always was and will always be. There was no separation; and so the trail and the lake and the birch, cedar and ash, his loving spirit, my blood, my cracked and beautiful heart are bound and yet unbound. I knew this and I reveled in it as I hovered on and through and with.
We are wide awake now, her life force our morning tea. She is new leaves, clear water, fresh, wet earth and spring wind. In her mouth lives love. We watch her move up and over, with and along the boundary of us. We are the trail, into the woods, along the Big Lake – Superior. We have always been. We are traveled by hoof and foot and paw. We have been the path for the hunted and those who hunt, for those who stroll and climb and gambol and march. We watch and we wait. Out of the corner of our wide expanding eye we see her cross the stream, becoming the stream, climb the rock-steps, becoming the rock, gaze at the Lake, becoming the Lake and then watch as her attention falls on a tree. She approaches this slim, tall silver man of a tree. Love spills from her eyes as she leans into it, as she wraps herself around it. Her forehead gently presses into the silver bark and she breaths it in. We feel her desire. Her softly humming lips purse, press and kiss. Union.
I am into the trail now, into my breath, into my feet moving lighter, brighter over the wet red earth – a many storied rue, last autumn’s leaves and the wet of winter’s snow. Down the trail, over the creek, up the steps, blue skies and old bones. I stop. There is a tree, one of a hundred, one of a thousand. “Come” it whispers. Like a magnet I come forward, tenderly I place my hands on its slim cool trunk, my belly, my cheek, my nose, my forehead. My arms fold around him, this thin, beckoning, stretching so tall to the sky tree. What floods in, unmistakable, is love. A 20 foot surge of love.
Touched, bewildered, beside myself i unwind. Gently settling my lips, pressing them into the smooth electric bark. We are like this for a perfect timeless moment.
Coming to; fulfilled, dazed, embarrassed. Pulling away; thankful, satisfied. I linger, laugh, breath in, breath out, step away. I distance myself. I am leaving, walking away. Betwixt and between, bemused and befuddled. I take one parting look back at the tree..
My gaze falls on the back side, which I had not seen before. And there it is.
Faded but clearly marked.
A gray heart shaped stain. Waiting to be seen.
They meander together, yet separately through the dark boreal summer-tide forest. Sun spills through the deep green canopy lighting his lake blue eyes, her red lipped smile. We are the trail and we see. So many, they come to us, to the forest's mystery, to the land's song, to the Lake's love. We see her, with a man, a man whose feet have never traveled us. It was her, the one who had marched and danced, yowled and dropped a stream of hot tears upon us. She who had marked the tree, bright with blood, and had come back again, whispering, pressing herself, her love into that silver barked and heart-marked being.
Shyly, firmly they hold hands as they walk upon us, their soles/souls pressing into us, each other, weaving through the birch, blessed in the cool shadows of this golden loved, green chapel.