Maiden in the woods

For years now, I’ve caught glimpses of her when I’m driving down a certain road near my home. Between fields and old farmhouses are patches of woods, and that is where I see her.

I might confess that ever since I was a child, whenever I ride by an expanse of woods, I’ve daydreamed about seeing people amongst the trees as I go whipping past. Maybe people of long ago, making a reappearance on the land where they once lived and hunted. Maybe enchanted people, unable to go beyond some magical barrier, or simply relegated to this place of relative obscurity where they are least likely to be detected. In summer, the woods are full and dark; their secrets are more secret than ever, but in winter, the woods are revealing. So many trees are bare and shafts of sunlight illuminate the papery russet detritus of the forest floor…when I ride past in wintertime, I imagine someone stepping back in the shadows, or bending over a cookpot, or doing whatever it is one would do in a secluded woodland semi-existence.

So, actually seeing this maiden in the nearby woods for the first time gave me quite a turn. Now, of course, I know she’s there. I’ve been trying to figure out who or what she is. Perhaps a dryad (Narnia, anyone?), the shy female spirit of a tree, usually an oak in Greek mythology. Dryads look something like their trees and can live for centuries. Or maybe a hamadryad, a nymph so intimately bound to her tree that if the tree dies, she dies, too (anyone remember the scene in The Last Battle when the beechtree nymph runs to the Narnian king, Tirian, to say the talking trees are being felled, then falling and vanishing as her own tree is cut down?).

Although I could never get a good enough look at this maiden in the woods to decide if she might be a dryad or hamadryad, she didn’t seem “tree-ish” enough. No. For one thing, she wears clothes. A top as blue as the bluest untroubled sky, the kind with no clouds in sight, so blue it imparts an inexplicable ache in the heart. She has a long white skirt and some kind of white headdress. And she carries something red in her hands—berries? Grapes? What IS that, and what is she, and why is she standing out here in these woods?

One day, I kept telling myself, I’m gonna stop this car and get a picture…

And so I did.

Last week I pulled off the road and quickly got my shot… I dared not go too far or get too close, as I don’t know whose land this is and… well… you know… possible enchantments…

She appears to be a young Roman woman carrying a harvest of grapes home from a nonexistent vine. Not a goddess, not a dryad. I can’t discern why she’s here. A puzzle. No obvious reason that I can see. I wonder, too, if she was once pale marble or all bronze or solid gray cement—turned to stone, perhaps?—before some artist, whomever it was, chose to spruce her up with color. No telling how old she is, how long she’s been here, and why, why…so many untold stories…

I bet the trees know all about it. I would ask, if only I understood Tree. For they do speak to one another, you know. They have a whole communication network of their own, underground, in the air…

But I am merely human, and as always, the trees hold their mysteries close.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

For love of Narnia

Discovering people who love Narnia is the closest thing there is to actually waking up and discovering you’re in Narnia. From the time I was ten I felt the same longing of those fictional English schoolchildren who found their way in though several different portals between that magical world and this one, that constant desire to return, to see Aslan again…

So when my children were born, I set about imparting a love of Narnia (and books) in their hearts.

My oldest loves books to this day. Narnia, however, never seemed to hold the same Deeper Magic for him that it does for me.`

Until recently.

He began reading the series to his five-year-old daughter last year and Narnia pulled him in. All the way in.

That is what Narnia does.

He would text me at different points on his adventure, the same adventures I’ve had over and over all my life. The snow. The lamppost. The thaw. Talking Beasts. Dr. Cornelius. Bree the Horse. Boarding the Dawn Treader. Meeting Reepicheep. The royal line of kings. Falling in love with Aslan, over and over and over again…

At the beginning of The Last Battle, this text: It’s heartbreaking.

Later: I got to the part where Cair Paravel has fallen and Tirian says Narnia is no more…am weeping…

Later still: Just finished The Last Battle. It broke me.

I learned from my little granddaughter, who whispered in my ear: “He cried so much that I told Mama we should be really nice to him. His eyes were all red.”

My boy, my boy. Once Narnia gets a hold of you, it never lets go. It’s in your blood, forever and ever.

Trust me.

It is but the beginning.

For Christmas he gave me this necklace with Lucy and Mr. Tumnus
in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Prosody of life: Revisiting awe

A Slice of Life doubling as a Spiritual Journey offering later this week, on the first Thursday of the month (thanks to Ruth for hosting). The SJT participants are revisiting the “one little word” each of us chose at the beginning of the year. At that time, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to choose a defining word for the year…but “awe” chose me, in spite of myself. Also practicing a bit for my poetry course this week; we are writing prose poems. Priming the pump, if you will…

Where am I now in relation to awe?

Perhaps more in tune to its vibrations each day…

Late in the evenings, a whipporwhill sings, three notes repeated over and over in the dark; yet it is the brightest of songs, summoning summer, beckoning life, new life in the making, love echoing from the treetops. Whipporwhills are seldom seen and their numbers are declining, yet the song illuminates the night, vibrant, rising and falling, going on and on, like rhythmic patterns of life itself…my granddaughter comes to visit with a book she’s reading, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I say, “Oh, I love that book! It was my favorite when I was little,” except that I was ten when I first read it and she is five. Five. And she laughs when I tell her that I’ve dubbed her bedroom here in my house the “Spare Oom” in honor of the faun, Mr. Tumnus. She reads to me, her little voice rising and falling in all the right places; I marvel that she’s been in the world so short a time…I recall my son telling me how she stood on a box at the pulpit with him on Easter Sunday to read the Scriptures, the story of life overcoming death; images of trees crowd into my mind, for around this part of the country storms swept through as winter gave way to spring, snapping off the top-heavy crowns of young trees. Their crowns are still lying dead where they fell but on the broken tree trunks, new shoots are already growing tall, reaching their green arms skyward, waving in the breeze, new life from old, wholeness and healing springing from broken places… meanwhile, my son’s wife cradles her belly, just beginning to swell with my new grandchild; at the end of this this week we will get to see the pictures, and will learn if it’s a boy or a girl, and the naming process will be solidified…my younger son comes in from his work at the funeral home and speaks of birds, barn swallows with basket-like nests tucked at the tops of columns in the entryway, hatching brood after brood as the bereaved pass by to mourn beside the caskets of their loved ones awaiting burial, and how one of the funeral directors who lives alone in the apartment above likes to open the windows on pretty days to toss bread crumbs to the birds on the rooftop, taking pleasure in watching them eat…in it all I find a rhythm, a song, the prosody of life, awe flickering like flame in the shadows, whipporwhill, whipporwhill, whipporwhill…

Reading the old, old story

My book bag

Bookbag

Everywhere I go, my customized book bag is a topic of conversation.

First of all, it’s literally a BOOK bag, sending the message “I’m a reader.”

Then people realize what the “book” is about. A play on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, my book bag bears the title “Magical Worlds and Where to Find Them.”

Opening a book, for me, is akin to Newt Scamander opening his suitcase – we step in and walk through magically expanded worlds. Whatever the book, it’s a passport to the minds and souls of other people, where I find myself reflected not always as a writer or thinker but as a fellow human being on the common, complex journey of life.

That’s the message I want to send to my young students, who are frequently in raptures over my book bag: Read. Expand your world, your mind.

My book bag actually sends more than one message:

Bookbag spine

It’s an homage to my favorite fantasy writers and the worlds they created, old and new.

Much is written and debated, perhaps, on the importance of reading fantasy. Here’s a favorite quote on the subject:

The problem with people who are afraid of imagination, of fantasy, is that their world becomes so narrow that I don’t see how they can imagine beyond what their senses can verify. We know from science that there are entire worlds that our senses can’t verify. 
-Katherine Paterson

The magic is a draw, certainly – in regard to Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, who wouldn’t want to experience singing stars and merfolk, a centaur, talking animals? Who wouldn’t want a chance to feel the tingle of the box of dust from the lost island of Atlantis and ride on the back of a huge owl? Truth is, the bigger, deeper exploration is not the mysteries of the magical world but the real workings of the human heart – we read fantasy to escape our world, to live in another for a time, and all the while we’re looking into a mirror. This is where our thinking truly broadens – in understanding self, then in pushing the parameters of possibility.

Dr. Seuss said:

Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.  

The lines between the fantasy stories we love best and the world we live in are much blurrier than we realize. It’s where the impossible and possible merge – who’s to say where all the boundaries really are?

Which is fun, sometimes even comforting, to think about.

So everywhere I go, I carry a little fantasy, a little magic, with me.

Via my book bag – a messenger bag, indeed.

Bookbag back

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