There is a place called home, far away from Rome, from where we roam and return.
Season’s turning and the garden we seeded and grew this year is drawing near to close. It gave of itself as a place of pleasure, work and leisure, medicine food and flowers, sitting with butterflies for hours, crooning bees, earth stained knees, and now it’s going to seed.
So we turn to the open road, walk away from abode, linger under leaves now falling, it’s a bright road yet it’s not the only one that’s calling . . . .
What’s beckoning instead is another way, darker deeper through trees that sway, where spider and rabbit meet to play, concoct devise hatch and scheme, mushroom trails that bid us dream, crumbly loam, fairy foam, the forest path calls us to roam, up the mountain, over bridges, up the slopes and slippery ridges, a path that stimulates a sweat, salty sticky air that’s wet . . .
“Alright stop with the rhyme and verse,” an old woman steps out from behind a gnarly mass of roots. She’s as gnarled and knotted as they are, yet her stride is brisk and spry as she comes toward me in a dress of brown leaves, golden ferns, creamy dried grasses, surprising me with her gravelly command. I gape at her, this apparition cobbled by the woods themselves.
“You’re not dreaming,” she states pinching me for good measure, “Come on get up, you’ve dreamed long enough, we have work to do, sit there any longer and you’ll turn into Ripple van Winkle, don’t you hear the thunder girl?”
Now that she mentions it, I do hear thunder cracking above, as though there are giant hands crashing and clapping into one another somewhere, drawing closer.
I get up and follow her as she walks toward the water’s edge.
“We’re going to clean up the creek,” she states, “Get to it! Branches, logs, leaves, sticks, twigs, toss them onto the banks. Then pick out the rocks and line the sides with them, water’s got to flow undeterred unless you want it to flood your abode and mine, big rain’s a-coming or didn’t you know it?”
She sniffs the air and declares, “That’s right, big rain, go on breathe deep and you’ll smell it, feel it on your skin.” Then she leaps into the water and starts gathering big heaps of leaf, twigs, and dirt where they’ve jammed up against logs.
I get to work too, pulling branches and logs out of the water and onto the banks. It’s not long before I’m walking upstream and digging out rocks where they’re wedged in, red ones, green ones streaked pink, big mottled brown and ochre ones, placing them to the edges. A bright green creature with big eyes climbs up a wet stick and sits on it, watching me work on a particularly large boulder.
“Need a hand?” he asks eventually.
I laugh, thinking he’s joking, but then his four legs grow long and he stands straddling the creek on enormous stilts, reaching down he rolls the boulder over to the side and settles back to licks his front legs complacently.
“Just ask for help,” he says, “I’ll be here for a while, it helps to bend at the knees when you’re lifting.”
That settled I go about moving rocks, big small in between, their edges scratch my fingers, every now and again a mass of debris conceals thorns that prick, sometimes I call to the green being for help with boulders; before long I’m far upstream on hands and knees in water, scraping at sand bars midstream, flattening them into the creek bed, and it grows wider and clearer as I crawl.
My skirts are sodden, their edges dangling with crawdads who’ve pinched on, hitching a ride to a place they’ll make a new home, away from the disturbance our creek clean up has wreaked on theirs. They let go of fabric, crawl onto the gritty bank, disappear into a crevice, and I wonder at their sense of content despite having been displaced from one location: no trauma, no displays of outrage, no blame, no sorrow, no no . . . . no attachment, the whole creek home, they detach from disturbance and crawl along homeward bound the whole time. Are they hugely brave or am I seeing bravery where there is none, just crawdad being crawdad, seemingly brave because were I to be in their place, it would require courage to move on? I wonder were I to move them from this creek miles away to a different water body, would they mind in any way, care at all, or simple get into the liquid flow and crawl on?
There’s a mud puppy watching me from a rock, as I catch it’s eye I lose my footing on a patch of slippery stones and hop, skip, and hump to regain my balance; the mud puppy is gone from sight. As is the rock. As is the creek. I glance around me seeing nothing, sensing nothing, I call out and hear no sound. Sensory perception has vanished yet it’s neither dark nor light with nothing here, wherever here is, to perceive. I stretch out my arms, wiggle my fingers, and feel nothing, neither stretching nor wiggling. Momentary surge of panic, but what is it surging through in a disembodied state? The surge subsides and I glide through nothingness, no body here, yet there’s a pulse of some sort I glide toward, vanishing point.
Blink. I’m knee deep in water. Soaking wet in raindrops, thunder rumbles, trees creak, the old woman of the woods stands before me, her dress of leaf, fern, and grass is gone, she’s shaped of hewn wood and bark, inner cambium, mushrooms.
“Time to go home girl, we’re done for the day,” she rasps. As I begin walking the path, wood chips scatter, mushrooms crumple, cambium melts, she falls to the forest floor, and I’m at the door back home again.
In later days I return with my children. We’ve gathered a basket of flowers grown from seed in our garden, and while they walk the logs, swing from thick vines, play with brownies and gnomes, chat in sing song voices, and scamper after squirrels, I arrange a path of flowers on the loamy floor in these woods, for spider and rabbit, mantis and crayfish, salamander, water, sprite, and sand, and for the old woman of the woods who extended her hand, got me moving rocks.