A friend from the city came up this weekend, just back from weeks in Italy, Alsace, and Germany, and we drove up this morning into the West Virginia highlands. After a hot summer and a long drought, we’re finally getting rain, and mist, and cooler weather. So, sweaters on, we finished our coffee — and his photo tour of a beloved author’s Italian villa and gardens — and began to drive UP. (I am still new enough to be loving the fact that, here in the Blue Ridge, there are really six directions: North, South, East, West — and Up, and Down.)
I’m still puzzling out why this may be, but there is not a single hollow here — not a single downhill view of soil, and roots, and fallen leaves, and brown trunks — that is not crammed with Others, just as Elizabeth Barrett Browning said that:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
(There’s nothing wrong with plucking blackberries. Last night over dessert, my friend said, “You take that blackberry,” which was, indeed, the most luscious fall fruit among the raspberries and blueberries on the still-warm creme brule that we shared. But I still never want to lose my desire to “take off my shoes” in the presence of the Goddesses and Gods. Or black blackberries. I will take off my shoes in the presence of blackberries.)
You know what I mean.
I mean the Powers, and Spirits, and Beings of This Place. Ancestors, both European and those Adopted from long before then. Not a day goes by that I don’t see them up here.
The Cousins. Just outside the edge of my view every single time I take a walk, cook soup, sit by my fire.
Goddesses and Gods, not the least of whom, for me, are Hestia, Hera, Pan, Freya, Diana, Hecate and, today, on this day of mists over the mountain, Nuit — the Goddess who most exemplifies arching protectively over the world, (just as Hopkins wrote that “The Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with, Ah, bright wings!”). My friend felt her gentle cloak spread protectively over each mist-covered mountain and valley.
Other Ones too old and too alien for me to name. (They’re in those rocks and at the edge of every river, run, branch, brook, course, creek, millstream, sluice, and spillway. They’re just across the gravel road, beyond that meadow, dancing above that field of baby cedars.)
And the really exciting things we almost miss — a small family of deer on a very steep ridge, buzzards, bobcats, eagles — not to mention the llamas at a tiny farm on a hill or the emus, grazing grass as if they were born to these mountains.
I was reminded today of the (somewhat unseasonal) Jethro Tull song that asks:
Have you ever stood in the April wood and called the new year in?
While the phantoms of three thousand years fly as the dead leaves spin?
There’s a snap in the grass behind your feet and a tap upon your shoulder.
And the thin wind crawls along your neck it’s just the old gods getting older.
And the kestral drops like a fall of shot and the red cloud hanging high.
Come a, come a Beltane.
Well, if you can feel it at Beltane, you can’t help but feel it here at Samhein, on the opposite side of the Wheel of the Year. You open your senses and you immediately feel that, up here in these ancient hills, it is, indeed, just the Old Gods getting older. Because, of course, they need a place to do it (get older) and, indeed, they are doing it (getting older), aren’t they? Just like the rest of us. The Old Gods are getting older. Then, it all feels so homely, warm, natural, perfect. I’m up here getting older, along with the Old Gods, getting older. (I age at my pace and they age at theirs. It’s all real. It’s all metaphor. There’s always more.)
So here’s what happened.
We drove up, and up, and up. (My ear drums pop over and over — we go up, they pop, we go down, they pop. If I’m lucky (often, I’m not) they won’t keep popping for days.) As we went up, we could see clouds curling, swirling, and hovering over the mountains. To me, this always seems as if the sky is making love to the mountains. And, of course, the higher up that we went, the more that the trees turned red, and gold, and apricot edged with black, and orange, and salmon, and pink, and bittersweet brown, and velvet emerald, and then they turned into blankets of Goodbye to the Sun.
Going up, and up, and up, we finally drove into one of the clouds.
It was glorious. We were, as my friend said, literally “between the worlds,” just what we mean when we say, “The circle is cast. We are between the worlds. What we do between the worlds changes all the worlds.” The road was hilly, and narrow, and twisty and the views to either side were of mist slowly dancing through brown, wet tree trunks, and, when you opened the windows, the scent was mineral and dead leaf. I couldn’t breathe it in fast enough. The mist got thicker, and thicker, and thicker, and the magic got stronger, and stronger, and stronger and, then, almost instantly, we drove out of the mist and back out of what Van Morrison called The Mystic.
And then a few hills up and we did it all over again. And again. And again.
We drove up past Lost River which keeps appearing, reappearing, disappearing, reappearing, and just generally reminding you how mysterious this landbase and the water can be. Every time we drove through the mist, we opened the windows, breathed in the air, and did all that we could to become one with the land.
And, then, we were back. A tiny local diner with a turkey and succotash special brought us back. A local farmers’ market with gluten free treats for my friend brought us back. We found the book in my library that I’d wanted to lend and my books brought us back. We found a bowl of pistou that I wanted to send back with my friend and it brought us back. The cats came out and waited beside the fireplace — they’ve learned to love the warmth. And my cats always bring me back.
I am awed, and overwhelmed, and delirious with joy at the mere possibility of becoming the Witch of THIS place. I may not do it. It may destroy me. But all of that is OK. I am up here and I am breathing the minerals, and the mist, and the dead leaves, and the rivers and runs, and, whether I do or do not do, I got the chance to come up here and compose my soul.
May it be so for you.
Picture by Green Man. If you copy, please link back.