Juniper & Crow
The essence of Life and Spirit is found in this eclectic land of stone and heat, thorn and spiral. Stories are contained in the watercolors of bone-dry canyons and dusty horizons... These words are a love letter for the vastness of wild land, the mercurial nature of desert creatures and the holy presence of Life transcending constraint.
Stories for the Spellbound Heart
“Books have long been instruments of the divinatory arts.”
― Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night
Someone once said that books make for a poor introduction to life. Whether one’s quest involves true love or life’s purpose, one woman’s story is another’s fiction. And, so I have learned that the truth I am seeking purposely rests in stories, dreams, poetic fragments… If not through fairy tales, I could have learned my lessons by listening to songbirds along the barbed wire of an Indiana field. It is in lines of poems and the lilt of eveningsong I return, back in those fields, chasing the pure heart of life.
Years ago, I believed in humans. Or, rather I longed for them, for one―one true heart. I read the tempestuous tales of Miller, the response-prose of Nin in her coveted journals. I rose to the poems of Rilke, the farmer’s angel. I wept in closets, in schools, for something closer than the people I seemed to walk amongst, in the crude suicides of Berryman and Plath. I wore the golden threads of Marlowe;
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.
Let the blaze of wheat and barn-dwellers carry me beyond. I never knew a common language. I spoke in spiral stairwells with Bachelard and whispered the name of the shaman’s poison to Eliade’s dreaming. I was tempted by the heavy common spells of Dylan Thomas―his literary yoke: the banal obsessions of the poor, the tangled vines. I was weighed down by words, pushed under the wet soil of the green home of isles. Living through words, it seemed, was more enchanted, possible.
Throughout my life I have been most drawn to the well-read vagabond, the dreamer of words. We misfits delve deep into the places only secret passages, scribbles, and verse could explain. The writers and especially, the poets translate the songs of life and make beauty out of death, an inevitable pain we carry with us.
But, books are not the only form of magic for a young girl (or an equally unsettled woman). Books are just the gateway to the ethereal. So, too, wilderness, or in my early years, the woodlands and fields surrounding my home became backdrop to the marvelous.
“There are demons in the trees,” my great aunt hissed. She loathed the sensibility of trees, the diamond light of stories that spilled from the laps of camping strangers.
“There a witches in them woods,” warned our neighbor, an old, blood-worn man who could have been equally despised. His cradled, misunderstood life lacked the love and children known to other homes.
Do you want to know a story?
Get out of your head, girl, before your family thinks you’re crazy.
I knew a man who kept thousands of books. So many books, his basement became impenetrable. When the rooms of his home filled, he then filled his garage. When the garage filled, the pasture became a tarp-covered library. He couldn’t stop reading.
In this man’s imagination, we could go to Chicago. “Like gangsters,” I asked? “Yes, yes, like gangsters, Bonnie.”
Other times, under the cloak of his books, he’d pull me close and breathe in my scent, mixed with the aged pages and dewy mold of damp Arial. “Lolita,” he’d whisper. My hands dropped the books. Paper cuts.
Who will I be when the book is closed?
On my great-grandfather’s lap, I learned to love the quiet of dusk and the grace of storytelling. I don’t remember his face; I remember the way he read with an intensity and seriousness of the most important of undertakings: Milton, Dostoevsky, Donne. He was the son of poor farmers ―his chance of leaving depended on the secrets of pages, portals of our longing. I was a child who recognized the bite of a hungry existence. I understood then as I do now the fear of being discovered for your dissatisfied, restless nature.
“There’s a world saved for us,” he’d whisper.
I remember, grandfather.
So many years have passed. I am not the girl of the teacher’s longing. I am not the woman carved from a loss, or a dreaming child.
Still, words haunt me.
As the smell of pine needles fills my nose and the sound of a curious jay follows me through the labyrinth of trees, I spread my books and papers on the ridge and look below at the lights of town. I am driven down to skin and bones by the city, sprawled like a monstrous blanket below the feet of this honorable chunk of rock. The mountain holds life, breath, time, and memory close to its heart.
I grew up with the woods as company, just as the stories. What 400 year old tree doesn’t have its stories to make the skin tingle, the electric pulse through the summer air?
My favorite books are old. They break with damp rot and broken spine. So, too, my problems seem trivial in comparison to these trees.
I wake to mockingbird song. I retire at night to her song. The song always changes, of course, because that is the nature of the mockingbird―to steal the pure melodies and make them her own.
Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
Before every great act of ceremony, words are read, poems recited. Spells are thrown into the air as the orator holds ancient verse. Even seasons bring a favorite book or passage to mind, a story to announce the coming rain, the Yule fire, or the bite of ripe, high-summer feasting.
To speak the words of the beloved, we make our intentions known. The spell of language takes hold of us in times when we must remain, and in times when we need the courage to go. Stories marvel, delight, and dance on the imagination. Imagination creates what is possible.
The light of the fire dances up as we remember, as we make the stories our own.
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