Friday, August 13, 2010

Red in Tooth and Claw

Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities. Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom -- while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude. Well-meaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields. . . . The postmodern notion that reality is only a construct -- that we are what we program -- suggests limitless human possibilities; but as the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of the human experience.

~Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods.

Yes, indeed. There are deer ticks, and mosquitoes, and snakes outside. There are brambles, and high branches from which one can fall, and there are evil strangers who snatch children who are alone.

But those are not the only dangers. Being terrified of nature, never knowing the Earth, being scared indoors to the video games: these, also, are deep and desperate dangers for the children who will live during water wars and decreasing resources.

When I was a girl (and, oh, it was a million, million years ago! And, isn't this how all the stories of all old women start: When I Was A Girl? It's funny how the stories of girls never start: When I Am An Old Woman. Well, a few of mine may have. Ahem. Well, then, and so it is and so I am, but, my Dearest Darlings, a million years ago, when I was a girl,) one of my great joys was to walk, every Saturday afternoon, down to The Creek. It must have been two or three miles away from my home, and I mostly went all alone, down to the bridge, the bridge over the tiny run, the tiny run surrounded by swamp cabbage and ferns, the bridge that was covered with an arch of branches, a cathedral for me, and my first love nest (even then, I saw no contradiction, which shows that you can lead the girl to Catholicism, but, well), where I went to furiously neck with my first real boyfriend. Then, (both before, during, and after the boyfriend) down another long street, with less frequent houses and bigger, more wooded yards, past the Swiss Chalet house, and past the people who kept horses, and past the vague friends of my mother's who had three daughters and where I saw, glimpsing just the covers, some of the first feminist books I'd ever seen, and then, then, then, into the marshy woods. That entrance was always marked for me with a special sense of stepping into what I would now call Fairie: marsh plants growing ankle-high, muck, and the sort of deep shade that, even when your real, Earthly body is sweaty and hot from the late August sun, gives you a bit of a bone-deep chill and the realization that you've stepped into "Otherness." Through a bit of those marshy woods, where the Goddess knows why I never saw the obviously-lurking snakes, and then, finally: the sandy bank of The Creek (the boulder-strewn water, running ice cold and full of tiny fish, dragon flies, and slippery algae), and the Deep Deep Woods on the other side.

The oldest Catholic daughter in a family of baby after baby after baby, slipping away from my home was all that kept me sane. All week long, I did it through books, though my mother's most common refrain was: "Get your nose out of that book (hint to Mom: I don't read w/ my nose) and [set the table, fold the diapers, go watch your baby brother, peel the potatoes, scrub the pots, etc., etc.]" And, on the weekends, I did it by walking to The Creek. And, there, finally, I could be really alone. And, there, finally, I could just be absorbed in nature: watching a dragonfly dart for a quarter of an hour, hearing the way that water sounded as it ran over algae-covered rocks, smelling the damp sand along the bank, full of the scents of decaying plants, minerals, and last-night's dance of salamanders along the shore.

One time, only, I took my baby sister down to The Creek with me.

I imagine, because I want to blame her, that my mom was really stressed that day and that the price of my hour or two of freedom was to take my baby sister with me, although my baby sister was the one of my siblings that I did really love, so maybe the fairies made it so that I would have to bring her.

And we walked, her with her little, little girl steps and her trusting, sweating hand (cruelest memory of all!) in mine, all the way down our street, and over the bridge, and past the people who kept horses, and past the Swiss Chalet house, and past my mother's feminist friends, and into the marshy woods, and onto the bank of The Creek.

And, then, somehow, I lost her.

I've gone back -- awake, in dreams, journaling, in trance -- a million, million guilt-wracked times to try and remember how on Earth I could have done such a thing. But at some point, I was a bit further down The Creek bed than I normally went and I had lost my baby sister. Full of terror, I started back up The Creek, calling and sick with fear. What if she'd drowned in The Creek? What if she were hurt? I called and called and begged her to answer, but I was alone in a way that I'd never been alone before, alone in a terrifying silence, alone as if I'd stepped through time, stepped between the worlds, stepped where I hadn't meant to step. I kept calling and, eventually, the mocking calls of what I told myself then were "older children" began to answer me, pretending to be my baby sister.

And it was then that I may have grounded for the very first time, run my roots into the minerals that I knew so well, and demanded, myself a child, that what were surely the Fae stop making fun of me and help me find my baby sister. And, you know, they were ashamed, and they said they were sorry, and, suddenly, there she was, my baby sister, sitting happy where I'd left her on the sand, surrounded by swamp cabbage, dragon flies, boulders. I slumped in an ice cold sweat upon the sand, then grabbed her hand and walked, as fast as her baby legs would let us go, back home. And then I made myself forget and always went alone, by myself, to The Creek, from thence forth.

A few decades later, when she died in a freak car accident, when my father's stricken face turned to me and said, "She's dead," there was a tiny part of me that wasn't surprised, that realized that the time we'd had with her had been won fair and square, and by an unaware bravery, from the Fae, and that I'd always known that, some day, jealous, they'd come back for what they'd taken and then, unwillingly, surrendered in shame.

Decades later, when I was recovering from breast cancer and a test came back suggesting, strongly, that the cancer had spread to my liver, I awoke from a deep dream and realized: If I'm about to die, there's only one place that I need to see again: The Creek. And, so, I did not work that weekend, although I should have done. And I rented a car, city dweller that I'd become, and I drove to the end of the road lined by the Swiss Chalet house and the house of the people who kept horses and the vague friends of my mother's. And I came to the marshy woods. And I parked the car.

And I knew myself home. Home in the wild. Home where, pace R. Frost, they would have to take me in.

And, so, yes, I understand the modern movement to keep children safe indoors, to warn them of all the real (non-Fae!) dangers of the out-of-doors. But, if I had two daughters, I'd still let the older walk the younger to The Creek.

Who knows what my baby sister saw during those years and years that seemed to be 15 minutes? Who knows who was really making deals with the Fae? Who knows why she stayed (with us) so long? Who knows how much I still long to follow? Who knows why I've never told this story before?

Picture found here.


Mama Kelly aka Jia said...

there is so much as a parent we want to protect our children from ... but there is also, so much we don't want them to miss ...

thank you for sharing this story Hecate

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's this time of year when everything in the air and earth seems so suspended between seasons and worlds and time, perhaps it's because of this time of year, that you told your story. And perhaps it's because the Fae wished the story told now.
Whatever the reasons, I'm glad you told it and I thank you.

Dennis said...

I have a big challenge in bringing the fear of the outside to commen sense with my brother in laws oldest child 10 years old. The boy is terrified of going out even the back yard. I am scolded by some matriarchs about pushing too hard. It is fueld by adhd drugs me thinks. I am the uncle and I feel it is my duty to show him the fearless way traveled. He is being coddled to much. And I am at a loss. Maybe the reality of time will run it's course? This article is a syncromystic saphire in my mind. Thank you so much. Thank you, respectfully, Dennis

Andrew said...

I know about your creek. I had several creeks and fond memories of them all.

Each was unique and had a different personality and occupants.

Anonymous said...

I miss feeling green places were mine to explore. I remember finding places that felt special that made the structure of "go here, play sports we'll never teach you to play" seem worth putting up with, but it feels too late to be able to do that anymore.

Oddly enough, the subway tunnels are where I imagine all of the invisible things living now.

Marya said...

This post means so much to me Hecate -- I recall how my brother once got lost in the Bvumba forests as a child and came home shivering and unable to speak for two days. His initiation. And when he was killed in a landmine explosion, I saw again that frightened but knowing expression.

Anonymous said...

I had a creek too, as a child in northern Alberta. While I have not tasted the wonder or tragedy of the story you tell it still resonates, that feeling of knowing something unprovable and the silence that naturally goes with it.

Thank you for telling this tale.

Pinescrone said...

I love this Hecate! I am glad you finally told your story!!! Blessed be my sister!

VforVirginia said...

So beautiful, so sweet, so sad.

I love you.

ql said...

Believe it or not, my creek was on Second Ave. & 15th Street in NYC, or more familiarly known as Stuyvesant Part. Only two square blocks, but I think I spend more time in that space than I did at home. Even during the winter.

Thanks for the post Hecate. Love you.

Bob and Lenore said...

That is such an enchanting tale! Childhood was another world, and its secret places were themselves other worlds. Children laugh there.

chicago dyke said...

i once watched my baby sister almost drown. we grew up next to a creek on one side of the house, and a large pond on the other. my folks were pretty mild about letting us play in them without supervision. we're both still going, for now at least.

but when my sister walked into the pond, when she was only 2 or so, you know what is funny about why she didn't die? the dog saved her. i remember that day as clear as right now, and i can still see it in my mind's eye. it was a big party my folks threw, all their friends and friend's kids were there. they were responsible DFHs, and hired two babysitters to watch all us younglings while they smoked dope and drank beer. us kids were assembled at the "beach" by the pond, and one young rascal threw sand into the babysitter's eyes. in that instant, my sister walked in over her head, but due to all the screaming of many playing children, the sitter didn't notice right away.

when my sister, clad only in a diaper, "rolled over" and started to do the dead man's float, our shep rushed out, knocking me (age 4.5) over, to rush to pull sis out of the water. by the time the sitter was done scolding the boy who had been naughty, she realized she'd almost lost a charge.

the universe giveth; the universe taketh away. i don't think there is a consciousness behind that, however. just "fate."

dmark said...

What a beautiful story. When I was a child we would go to Mitchell's Glen. At the bottom of the waterfall was a pool. The Ho-Chunk revered the spot and camped there well into the 20th century. I still dream of the cool, quiet, green forest.

Anonymous said...

Hecate, thank you for sharing something so personal. I waited a few days to respond, because I wanted to make sure my reply would be clear. I almost didn't reply at all, but I think I'm supposed to deliver a message to you. In the honor and tradition of the GBG, here goes.

No burying the lede, I agree w cd that there is no consciousness in some things.

Sometimes, as a friend, or as a person offering her craft, you don't want to give something away before its time. Yet I think for this, we can both tell you that and still your steps on your path unfolding will be your own.

Also, a lesser-discussed aspect in the heavens (aside from the Cardinal T-square) is the near conjunct of Chiron and Neptune. This year they have been retrograding together since Jul1 (Nep) and Jul4 (Chi). Their conjuct will be strongest in Oct & Nov and they go direct again Nov6 (Chi) and Nov7 (Nep). It's as if this is the perfect time, while the other major planets in Cardinal signs are squaring off and locked in opposition with one another, that one, especially with Neptunian influences, can slip away and - go back - to do once in a lifetime healing. What's more, it's as if the Sun, for those who would pay attention to subtle cues, is ever so gently directing its gaze across the Wheel, right at Chiron & Neptune, charging them up with great warmth and valor to do what needs to be done - to step, enveloped in this warmth, into the bone-chilling Otherness once again, but with a difference.

Also in lending my the best of what I know of the GBG, I listened for what you said about your experience that day. 1) That there you were, ruing the loss of your childhood and the fae came back to you with the mockery that it could be worse, you could lose a child. 2) What's more, that you had learned not to trust an adult voice (when it would come to borrow) and you knew not to place an onus on one younger, and yet the adult children were also unreliable. That left you with yourself. And 3) what you found in the end was that she was right where you left her, happy sitting on those stones by the creek. In the end, it was all an illusion. Perhaps a self-imposed sense of loss for expecting she could anchor you as you wandered further than you had before, and did your Will. The Essene mirrors might call this experiencing something you wished someone else would experience, had they ever recognized the onus they placed on you.

Now here is the message that I just wrote down before logging on: Perhaps sometime in the next few months, you can go back there to the same place. Maybe take someone with you who can anchor you and themselves while you explore. But this path is not about retracing your steps to see how you could have done such a thing. It was an illusion that you ever lost her in the first place.

The Essene empathic experience aside, you were right to feel indignant that you were mocked about something that was obvious as an "insight." It was an inapt lesson that tried to undermine your Will to explore, as naturally would any child, vibrant and (relatively) carefree. Now is the time to go back and reclaim what is waiting there for you. You are not as old as you regard yourself now. You are eternal. Prepare by exploring whatever house of yours is being aspected by Chi/Nep. If it is the 8th, the path is about legacy, if it is the 9th, it is about philosophy, if it is the 10th, it is about where you stand. Something is waiting to be seen with eyes anew.

Chi/Nep are in Aqu now.
An Aqu myself, I'm just a messenger for this.
BB and in the months to come, may there be abundant light shone on your path.

Karin said...

What a wonderful story-thanks for telling us about it.