A March day in 2013: A freak storm had dumped a foot of snow on our mountain. Two days later, the strong spring sun transformed the snow into sparkling creeks and glistening pools. As I walked down into the creek valley behind our house, I heard an eerie racket, like thousands of clackers playing a wild symphony. I looked toward the small and serene pond that Bob had made in a bend of the creek. The water was rolling and frothing, embroiled in a mini-tempest. I took three steps closer and then, as if an invisible hand had abruptly dropped a veil over the scene, all was still. The pond returned to its looking glass state and was profoundly quiet. Nothing moved except the occasional water skimmer. No sound but a distant chattering squirrel. Then I glimpsed a small brown back just under the water surface. Then another. I slowly backed away.
Wood frogs are shy creatures and don’t take to intruders amid their sacred rituals. In early spring they awake from under leaves, stones, and logs where they have lain frozen all winter and travel to ephemeral pools and ponds. There the males call in chorus to their mates and passion ensues. Most wood frogs mate only once in their lifetimes; after their one wild and precious dance, the female lays her eggs nestled near water plants and slightly submerged logs. Then she and her lover are gone, back to the budding forest from whence they came.
One could say that these small pinkish-brown frogs appear and disappear at will, and when together in a frenzy put forth a sound like a host of coughing banshees. They make the still waters of woodland pools boil like cauldrons of sorcerer’s brew, and they can vanish in an instant, leaving the surface like shimmering glass and the air deeply silent.
Will Ashe Bacon wrote a poem that begins:
It’s up to us
to re-enchant this planet Earth
We are the elves and giants
we are the shining ones
daughters of the Moon
and sons of the Sun
We are the shapeshifters
we are the mysterious light
shrouded in mists at
the dawn of our time
and it’s up to us to re-enchant
this living planet Earth…
Perhaps humans do need to re-learn our place in the Universe, but when it comes to re-enchanting and enchantment, the Earth (it seems to me) already has that in spades.
I have been thinking lately about imagination, the ability to see under the surface of things and around the bend of time; to view layers and realms; to sense and enter other worlds. One of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman. He writes about those other worlds and their fantastic inhabitants. A wise and wonderful storyteller, he once said, “There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong.”
With our five senses, we have limited experience: we perceive the hard edges and outer shells. Pause a moment to listen and look with our “hundred secret senses” and things begin to hum and shimmer. What we hear and see in between the layers and unfolding in stories has the power to change us. You can’t get more full or real than that.
One Advent night in a warm and snowless December I was puttering around my kitchen, musing about the well-known Nativity stories told by Luke and Matthew. Though they relate astonishing events, we hear them now with complacency. We know what comes next.
I glanced out the window. Drifting clouds veiled a pale moon, but I could see that Scot and Linda’s house across the field was aglow. This was odd, since they were not at home. I was caring for their pets, and after feeding the cats earlier in the evening, I had turned off all the lights but one by the front door. Without forethought, I stepped out into the night in my nightclothes and slippers, and proceeded to walk across the field. I kept to the edge, near the trees. Suddenly I heard rustling and then the pounding of hooves, lots of them, running, running, seemingly from all directions. The field was alive, the air moving, rushing past me. I was in a maelstrom. Dark shapes appeared and passed. Then a smaller shadow, low to the ground, crossed before me and tore into the woods. A vision of colliding bodies, mine among them, seized my mind. I froze.
Time suspended, and then the sound and fury dissipated and faded into the field as the startled deer calmed themselves and returned to their evening ramble. I was close enough to Scot and Linda’s home to determine that nothing was amiss. The door light was reflecting on a large window, doubling or tripling its brightness. I did not continue my journey to confirm this. Shaken, I turned around and went home.
As I stepped into the laundry room, and then the cozy kitchen, I was still reverberating. I had not known what next would come flying through the dark, from what direction, going where. I went about my usual nighttime routine, but the air felt numinous. I wondered: what if we could re-enter the familiar at the point of unknowing? What if an unusually bright light called us to walk off into the night in only our pajamas? What if the dark air around us came suddenly alive?
The world offers itself to our imagination, as Mary Oliver said, and that opens doors upon doors. Just now it seems to me that to venture through those doors is critical for life on this planet: I mean both the personal inward journey of healing and the communal reawakening to the imagination of the Earth.
I am lucky to live at Rolling Ridge where imagination pools in the creek bends and rustles in the air at night. I long to have you experience this too. I invite you to join me in this thin place for either or both of two retreats this fall: Courting the Realm of Dream and Deep Imagination: Encounters with the Sacred in Nature and the Human Soul and Thriving on the Threshold: Becoming a Community of the New Story.
As Adrienne Rich says in her poem “Prospective Immigrants Please Note”, doors make no promises. Going through them is risky: nothing is known; everything is unexpected. But enchantment lies there, and the opportunity for communion with the wondrous and the Holy. Please come.