Travel Journals from A Pilgrimage: Part one
What You Can Tell a Forest
I’ll start with the last few days.
Or should I start with the last few weeks? Or months?
I don’t know. Everything runs together. Time folds in on itself, ties itself into knots which meet and bind past events into the present, strands of the future somewhere there in bound echoes about to return.
Here is the sea. Here is not the sea. Here is a swamp, waiting for the sea, biding years until the waters rise and it returns to what we all want to be again before returning to the stars.
I’m at a table staring out a darkening window past a window into false light.
I’m here again.
Here is a table in a house of my sister in the dredged and managed swamplands of central Florida, marsh which despite all the efforts of humanity continues, sodden, in the foreign-yet familiar mists falling from the very close sky.
Asphalt and concrete flatten the land, but unlike the streets and highways of Seattle, they seem more like tenuous and temporary tracks across wet sand and thick-bladed grass. Retention ponds and canals do their best to direct the ancient floods, but they seem mere puddles and ditches, not hewn but dug like the small channels a child’s hand might make on the shore for crashing waves to follow.
I’m here again.
Here is my sister’s home, where
“sage-blue tufts drape over branches, gossamer ribbons adorning the shade-queen of the summerlands. Willow mourns, but at night, so too does Oak, a dirging dance of stillness, unnoticed steps through silver light seeping through clouded skies.”
I remember when I wrote that, where I sat, what I thought. Words scattered but inscribed become sigils and glyphs holding fragments of myself to be unlocked, invoked, call forth and scattered again upon winds carrying rains back to the sea.
I remember having no idea, being guided by someone else who is apparently me, me later, me when I know what I’m doing telling myself when I’ve no fucking clue which thing before me must be done, what fragment of unheard music must be strained towards, which words come next after the ones just written.
Others help. Gods dancing in mists and mountains and bigger by far, great forces to which we’ve given names they revealed.
They help, like an earthquake helps settle the land, revitalize the city.
They help, like volcanoes help grow our crops and strengthen the forests.
They help, like hurricanes sow seeds and water the fields.
So many warnings not to ask them for help, and I smile at my foolishness.
Others help, and are myriad. Land spirits are like lovers, so many gifts, so many obligations in any relationship.
The night before I left I missed a bus, another was late. I’d called on a lover, demand to call upon a lover. Only someone like me doesn’t pack until midnight before leaving for four weeks, only someone like me ignores the demand because he’s afraid to say good-bye.
I’d written about her-him, so many blues of grey, and she-he’s standing there holding a circlet of light when I arrive, a parting gift I almost scorned because I didn’t want to say good-bye.
Before her-him, the tree I’d blessed, its roots uprooting the sidewalk, the notice posted a warning. Didn’t know 80 year-olds had monetary value, a 10 grand/mother Maple who “might’ be removed. Water from elsewhere, a call to others, a blessing and hope that she’d survive the concrete replacement.
Why should a tree have to survive replacement of cement and gravel?
But she did, the gorgeous hobbled lady, branches so absurdly clipped and shaped by men’s insistence that she do what they say they grew outward, away and around the lines strung through her, ever outward from the center of her shapely trunk that maybe no one noticed they’d become a a great wheeled crown.
But my last good-bye had to wait for sleep, all two hours of it before I trudged down a hill with rucksack and pack to the entrance. Sunrise exploding crimson against dawning, tired clouds, and I at the tree-line.
There wasn’t enough time to sit on the bridge, or to light the candle in the hollowed stump by the elk-tooth. Only a brief “I love you,” sudden sobs, and a muttered, “this is scary, you know.”
Because you can tell forests things like that.
These forests here you can tell other things, the things you say to people you don’t need to be brave for, to people you don’t need to console or counsel, to lovers who have no needs and friends who seen so much light your darkness is but welcome, cooling shade.
Your words wash through them like the rain, so many ponds and streams rinsing sepia tannins from sandy soil, water clear and warm and sometimes full of sulphur in the few places the water wells up.
They Watch Our Fire, From Forests
Here, we are then, before the fire, flames licking the flesh of trees as Her moon rises with Her stars, I with my words and you with yours.
I am best by a fire.
A candle sits on stones raised upon the flame, dedicated to the Lady of the Flame, and I sit before it, writing you, but really writing me. I’m always writing to myself, because I am always forgetting, always astonished at the remembering. I felt like that, I remind myself, from earlier to later, just as I guide myself from now to before.
To write is to slip out of time, sit before a fire with a candle, sipping tea after beer, distant white lights suspended from a moon-lightened sky, his face still in your vision, his words warm as the fire, knowing you’ve slipped outside time.
Like a reflection in a mirror regarded, and the mirror is gone. Like words on a screen read, and the screen is ignored. Stare at the glass, at the thin back-lit frame, and you’ve slipped outside of time, or back into it, depending only on your thoughts at the time.
The sun drenched the world when I woke today, like the rains drenched the world yesterday.
I’m so exhausted.
Before I left was the book, the review, the essays. Calming the mad replying to voices that sometimes I’d see–the “special friend who stands over there in the light every night” according to the client who’s words I’ve no reason to doubt. The rush to prepare the forest for the coming snows, the hours over the hearth melting wax for candles. Tea with friends and their children, coffee which stretched for hours, watching leather-daddy friends don rubber uniforms while prescribing my “thinking” Paganism a long “bulldog fuck.”
Sure, it’s true–I think too much, but do I need to make sense here?
My life there in Seattle makes little sense; any raid on the inarticulate diminishes the experience. I could say plainly “I was busy restoring a forest, making candles, meeting friends and working.” But that’s not my life. No one reads a book where someone goes to work and comes home, and unfelt anecdotes make poor stories:
The moon’s up.
Above me hangs the moon.
Gossamer threads of moonlight glisten silver upon the waxed surface of unfamiliar leaves of Southern oak, shattering and shimmering ghostly filaments in the light midnight breeze as smoke curls from embers and licking flames, rising to meet the play of shadowed life.
Who could live otherwise?
Today I woke into sunlight after the mists of yesterday, the marsh-air chill and clear, that electric sense in the breath that warns life will soon be different. Berlin, too, is built upon a swamp, and the air there keeps you awake all night, full of life inhabited by spirits.
I read of Berlin to a forest-faced friend as we sat by this fire, because he’s the sort of person who should go there, because he’s the sort of person who one wants to read to.
Also, Berlin is in my head and will not leave. I was last here after my last pilgrimage; I am here again before my next. I don’t know Dublin, nor Caernarfon.–I would not have known to choose these places, had they not been chosen for me.
I would not have chosen much of any of this, had it been only my choice. You can’t know how beautiful something will be until you’ve gotten there, how beautiful someone will be until you’ve known them. This thing about “free-will” has always been a joke, because the moment you’ve chosen, you must give up all choice. We only have short moments in crossroads, at the still-points of the world before entering back into time, which is also out of time..
What has become of me?
Last year I arrived here from old stones, giants muttering in my sleep, wild boars rummaging my affects, old notes echoing back into new songs, mountains with forgotten temples trying to get me to remember.
And I ask why I should remember. I am no one, when I am at my best, which is just before I am also at my worst.
When the sun set here I saw again her stars and trembled at the memory, trembled at what I’ve been letting myself pretend I’m not forgetting.
There’s a life that threads itself out of the tapestry we thought we’re weaving. We’re never the only ones at the loom.
These are the thoughts you have before a fire, the same firepit into which you offered three year’s of words, tearing each page from a book as you read them, laughing with laughter that wasn’t your own. Brighid wanted “important paper,” and it was the most important all.
Certain words only become spells when committed to flames. “Something’s coming,” I’d written, “or Someone” on the last page of that journal, the last entry before the fires came, before I noticed I’d entered a forge.
I’m in marshlands before a hearth-fire under a familiar moon, surrounded by spirits of memory, the few spirits I’m ever certain are actually mostly “in my head.”
But a land is a relationship, land spirits warm friends. It’s not lost on me how the moon’s the same as when I saw her with him. She remembers like I do, I suspect, remembers the welling hope and awkward fumbling under the moon, almost the same time last year. Like friends return bits of yourself after the distance of years, love never lost to the heart, perhaps she remembers, too, offering back to me what she gathered, what we left.
I’d fallen awfully hard for him, a most delightful soul. Like me, a being not quite in-place with where he lives, not quite in-time with his age. Film-maker, satyr bleeding thoughts through his words that aren’t quite ready to survive this world until it’s changed to greet him.
Awkward fumbling on a stone under those branches, passion locked in movement’s not quite in time with music neither of us could hear.
And he, later, his face like a forest, said “You deserve someone to ravenously explore your castle.” And he, adding, said “I’m not very hungry at the moment.”
Everyone should be let down so exquisitely.
Share dreams with someone and you slip out of time, or your dreams escape into the world between the walls, waiting. It takes little for their return, waiting, suspended, a stash of hope, a forgotten cache of joy, never lost, only displaced.
And the land knows best where it’s hidden, because these sometimes are our unbidden gifts to them.
By this fire, sharing my brother-in-law’s ale, sharing our new lack of fear as the spirits watch, quietly, dancing to our words. I’ve only now just realized they were there as I write these words.
What else watches our love, laughing? Who else peers through moon-silver branch as we speak, or kiss, or sigh?
Summerlands Waiting For the Sea
The air today longs, languid memories hanging in the air like summer motes of pollen in sepia-stained even-ing.
But the days are short, shorter than those days suspended in memory of endless summer. The shortest soon arrives, and I’ll greet it in a tomb.
I’m not ready. I’m not ever ready. You don’t leave a place when you’ve prepared, else you never leave. You do not summon love, it arrives upon you and you could not have known. Death does not come when things are all gotten into order and tidy, it comes only when it’s time.
And on time, I’ve still slipped out of it. Not that strange stroke of misfortune where every hour is wrong, events pass and you were not there. That other time, that time out-of-time, when mysteries walk with you and trees dance with volition.
Everything breathes, but only out-of-time can we feel their exhalations and not suffocate.
I leave here tomorrow, having only just arrived.
This stop before Ireland was the original plan before all those other events conspired to send me across an ocean, calls it seemed foolish to leave unanswered.
I lived much of my adolescence in the dredged southern marshes, struggling to be something unknown and unimagined by the asphalt and beaches, the shopping centers and suburbs. I fled the swamps, first to the old brick of New England, than to the old trees of the Northwest, skirting the borders between temperate and boreal, in search of chill mists where dreams of the Other hide in fern and cloud.
Last year, I finally returned, after a decade away, long enough time between what I’m always becoming and what is only offered that I would no longer sink in these swamps.
Months with family I’d too-little seen, the warmest of hearths, food and drink and dancing life.
It’s here, last year, I began writing things other people wanted to read. It was here, last year, I decided what I wanted to become. Enough time away, enough time being other, enough time in the Other and any land seems to rise to greet you, offering strange gifts to your own fumbled giftings.
The land makes you, as we make everything from the land.
What I am and think and feel in Seattle is not what I am and think and feel here. Re-reading my words, I note the subtle qualities of the in-breathed air in the sentences I form.
Seattle is all edge, uneven land surrounded by water, floating above a fault. To rest there is to stare into distraction, to quiet the unheard noise of welling fire and crushing rocks beneath your feet.
Here is waiting for the sea, basking in light even in the chilling winter, greens and blues making violet somehow in the shadows, vibrant scent of fecund evening lingering long into night. I dream of the summerlands, visions dancing just-out-of-sight of ancient life painted with even older art.
Tomorrow, a plane, an ocean. The dreams will fade, become other dreams I’ve never seen. Leaving the warm hearth of family will not be easy, and I shall miss the languid longing breaths of the spirits of these silent, watching trees.
6 thoughts on “A Marshland Hearth”
You. Again with the words that spin portals into the Otherworld. I got vertigo reading this. Tears welled. Spilled. I sat in a daze with my fingers veeing my eyes. Then got up in a daze and went into the kitchen to make an offering to the Morrigan. When I rose to my feet, still, the vertigo. Wondered if a slice of sweet potato pie with a dollop of cream I whipped to a froth of soft peaks was suitable. Felt its acceptance. Moved away from Her altar, which is still a part of my altar to the Dead. Still in a daze, moved away.
Wandered back into the kitchen, the quote below like a mist in my mind. Le Guin’s words do this to me, too. Plucked it, in a daze, from the fridge, from its magnet. It’s the response I have to this beauty that you have written.
“Do you dream, Selver?”
“Do you hold the dream in your hands?”
“Do you weave and shape, direct and follow, start and cease at will?”
“Sometimes, not always.”
“Can you walk the road your dream goes?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes I am afraid to.”
“Who is not?”
— Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World Is Forest
Thank you for sharing the road your dream goes.
One of the best little books ever, with a title which jumped far off the book to sear itself forever into my mind. 🙂
The pilgrimage has already begun for you…it doesn’t begin like this for many who end up arriving and seeing it all, so be thankful for that first! 😉
I wanted to give you something before you went, but didn’t have time and couldn’t get to Seattle to do so. Can I send you something next week to take with you and possibly read aloud at some point when you’re at Newgrange on the fated day? It being Cú Chulainn’s birthday that day, and his birth-place, and the likelihood of me ever being there slim as it is, this may be as close as I can ever come to honor that long-cherished hero of Irish tradition and my own life of devotion…
But if not, I understand. You’ll have your hands full, in any case. 😉
Yes! Email in my direction, and I shall retrieve it from the aether. I’m reading something else for someone, too, which is a fun thing to do on behalf of others. 🙂
Beautiful, mesmerizing, magical writing. The best of luck to you on your journey. I look forward to your future tales.