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Pull up a chair, my tribe, and I’ll tell you a story, of the Before Times, which I rarely speak of – of my life before illness, which was an unusual one by anyone’s standards. It is a bitterly cold night here on the Mountain, 8 degrees and snowy, and gazing at that snow, so incredibly fine due to the very cold air, I see it sparkle in the deck lights, and am reminded of another snowy night, so long ago, almost half a lifetime now…

I remember…
…being a single mom living with my 7 year-old daughter in a very poorly-built log cabin, with no running water, in Ohio. I hadn’t planned to be there on my own… a marriage had recently ended badly, leaving me broken-hearted and financially-ruined. I found myself enrolled in college, learning to be a naturalist or forest ranger by day, and returning home in the evenings to a great deal of responsibility… “living rough” had seemed a fine idea when I was married to someone who people compared to the “Marlboro man,” but it was a daunting prospect for a woman alone…

After a long day of college classes that involved much hiking, near sunset on a bitterly cold Winter evening, I wearily climb the steep hill to the cabin, my daughter at my side. It is cold inside, too – the cabin is heated only by a woodstove, and, being incredibly drafty, requires a constant, roaring, fire, but the fire has been banked all day, down to a slow burn. I pile on wood and get it warming up, then move outside to chores as the daylight fades.

I break the ice in my rain barrels, and tend to my two horses, and feed far too many wolves. With what little energy I have left, I scrape together dinner for my daughter, and try to be there for her. I don’t do a very good job. My situation is overwhelming, is desperate, and I don’t know how I will get through it. I am deeply depressed, but trying not to show it.

But after she is tucked in bed, I pull my boots, coat and warmest gloves back on, and go back out into the biting cold to split wood. I have just used up all the already split wood to warm the house for the evening. Cutting and splitting the wood by myself is a never-ending chore, and I cannot get caught up.

The Moon is full and bright overhead, reflecting off the snow, and I can see my way clearly. I have no outside lights, so I glance up, thankful of the Moon’s brilliance. The snow crunches and squeeks under my boots, as it only does when it is so cold. I struggle to put a snow-covered log up on my chopping block. The splitting maul is lifted and brought down on the log with a well-practiced, if exhausted, stroke, and that moment is when the Magick happens, when everything changes…

The snow and ice on the top of the log suddenly explodes up around me in a powder-fine cloud, and every single flake, every single speck, sparkles in the moonlight with glittering rainbows, as it flies up around me and ever, ever, so slowly falls.

It is as if I have been showered with finely ground diamonds, or fairy dust, each speck shimmering with all the shades of the rainbow – deep blue, purple, scarlet red, fire orange – and the bright white of the Moon as they fall.

It is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and all because we were out of wood on a cold winter night.

I stand there in astonishment, as the cloud of glimmering diamond snowdust settles on and around me, and then gaze up at the bright Moon above me.

If I had needed a sign that even in one’s darkest hour there is Beauty, there is Hope, then I had surely been gifted with one, and I had, indeed, needed just such a sign.

It seems it is a fine and beautiful night for chopping wood after all, and I split enough for several days, laughing like a child as the rainbow-sparkling snowdust falls all around me and the glorious Moon shines down from above.

The memory of the unexpected and breathtaking Beauty of that night is a treasured one, and one I think of often. It holds and sustains me through the dark hours, and helps me find the Beauty, Inspiration, and Hope, to keep going… just as it did then.

The Moon is Magick and Mystery,
yes, and so are many other things.
If we but look,
there are signs and guideposts
all around us, pointing the way…
We have only to open our Hearts and truly See.

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I was afraid.

Not the kind of rational, in-my-head, calculating-the-risk, type of afraid.

No.

In-my-gut afraid.

Primally,
animal-instinctually,
go-inside-and-hide,

afraid.

Because of a sound coming up the Mountain, one I’d never heard.

It wasn’t a feeling I’d had in a long time; in fact, I can’t remember when. Certainly never here, at my home on the Mountain.

It was the night of Superstorm Sandy.

The wind had been steadily increasing all day, and had been raging and roaring for hours.

Late in the evening, we noticed a change in the sound. There was a strange vibration, too. Rhiannon, huddled in the dark with me, the dogs & cats, on my bed, was leaning against the wall, and said the whole house was vibrating.

In the kitchen, we both heard a strange wailing sound, as if a woman were keening. It is the season of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, which is the time when the doors between the worlds – this world and the realms of spirit – are most open. “Banshee,” or, in Gaelic, “Bean Sidhe” (Fairy Wife), came instantly to mind. Legend says the Banshee is the harbinger of death.

We stepped out onto our screened-in porch, only to be greeted by stinging, wind-driven, sleet, no matter how sheltered a position we took. Rhiannon only lasted a few moments in the raging wind.

But I stayed. Something felt decidedly different. Decidedly off.

I listened to the roaring winds, as I have countless times in the 11 years we have lived here. I wanted to understand what they were telling me.

They rage hard on our Mountain, at our home, when any storm front comes through – it’s the downside of living high on a west-facing ridge. The storms march across the wide Shenandoah Valley, spread out below, and run smack into us. Winds at our house are usually 10 to 20mph higher than down below, or even than they are on the other side of the Mountain.

As I listened, a deep rumble started in the Valley, and as it moved closer, grew in intensity.

For a moment, I thought of the sound that the occasional, low-flying, military helicopters on maneuvers make – there was the same thrumming, rumbling, vibration, with this new roar on top of the roar already raging.

But there could be no helicopters that night. The winds had to have been 70, maybe 80mph or more. They can’t fly in that.

As it got closer, it sounded, too, like a dozen freight trains were headed up the Mountain, the way their wheels rumble over the tracks, and the vibration, so low…

It washed over our ridge like a wave, this rumbling roar of wind, and the trees thrashed as never before.

Fear exploded in my belly, and my gut said to go inside immediately.

But I wanted to understand what was happening, so I stayed put, and lasted one more wave.

I listened to it build in the Valley below, rushing up through the trees as it made its way to us, and felt the vibration in my bones as the deafening roar & rumble washed over us.

Raw, naked, fear gripped me, filled my belly, and I bolted through the door, hearing the wailing cry of the Banshee as I did. I could not help myself.

I have never been afraid here like that before.

The screened-in porch is my domain, whether Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, and in all weather. I visit it many times every day, work on carving there as energy allows, watch the seasons turn, and observe Mother Earth around me, day and night.

I have watched hundreds of thunderstorms march over our Mountain in the Summer, delighting in the play of lightning in the sky and the way the trees move with the wind.

I have sat for hours, well bundled, watching the play of thrashing trees against dark Winter nights when the winds raged around me.

Other North’easters and other hurricanes have come and gone and this Summer brought the startlement of the derecho winds.

And while others may be afraid of the woods at night, I delight in walking barefoot through them under the bright Full Moon.

But always, I have been in-my-head, calculating the risk, rationally deciding when it was time to go inside, for safety’s sake.

Never, in-my-gut afraid.
Never, primally, animal-instinctually, go-inside-and-hide, afraid.

This storm was different, “…stitched together from elements natural and unnatural.” as author & founder of 350.org Bill McKibben put it (you can also read a transcript rather than the video at the first link).

Rationally, I think what I heard was the cold front coming in from the West and merging with Sandy’s rotation. That would explain the layers of wind, the differing directions they seemed to come from. And the Banshee’s cry was the wind whistling through the leaves.

But irrationally, all I can think of is those moments of primal, animal, instinctual, fear.

I’m not used to being afraid of Nature.

Nature is my everything, my element, despite the illness that keeps me confined to the house. Nature is what keeps me going.

I am constantly aware of what is happening outside, looking out through the large sliding glass doors in my bedroom, or in one of my many ventures onto the screened-in porch.

We live in an untended and wild Forest.

The trees I know well, in all seasons. I see them sway gently or thrash in the wind; bask in the golden glow of Fall color; watch for the first green tips to appear in Spring; thank them for their shade in Summer’s heat.

I love the giant and ancient Oak that lives on the North side of the house well – it lost many limbs in last Halloween’s freak snowstorm.

From my bed or from the porch, I observe the sky: the clouds, the many beautiful sunsets, and at night, the Moon & stars. I smile as the snow swirls and falls, and the mists & fogs close in. I listen to the birds, track their migrations, and follow the lives of the many deer and other wildlife.

While Sandy left our home undamaged, for which we are extremely grateful, she did leave a mark.

Our Forest, filled with trees that are tough, strong, and resiliant, tempered as they are by the many high winds we get from storms, shows Sandy’s mark here & there in twisted, dangling branches, and a few downed trees & branches. My favorite Fall-color tree, an Ash, lost a large primary branch. The beautiful Fall leaves have been largely stripped from the trees, a bit early, and carpet the Forest floor.

Yesterday, I saw one of the many deer who I have watched through the Summer, a youngster, appears to have a seriously injured ankle – swollen & with a bloody ring around it, as if it was trapped in something. I wonder if she ran in fear of the storm, and caught it between stones.

But it could have been so much worse.

Sandy has left her mark on me, as well.

I will not forget those moments of animal, instinctual, fear. They have renewed my sense of awe and respect for the force and power inherent in Mother Earth.

She is not to be taken lightly.

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September is here, there’s a cool nip in the air at night, a few leaves are starting to change… Summer is coming to an end, and Autumn is beginning.

For many of my dearest friends, this brings a deep sigh of relief, and a hope that the worst is over. For almost everyone I know, it’s been a difficult Summer, full of one personal crisis after another, just as it has been for my family.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see the way forward when a crisis strikes, to find the Path you should follow. You look around in confusion and see only obstacles.

“Fauna” by Charlie Terrell

When I found this beautiful image of Fauna, Guardian of the Wood, I was reminded that, often, looking to Nature will help me find the clues and inspiration I need to find my Path again.

Sometimes, it is as if we stand in a deep, dark forest, surrounded by thick trees and brush, knowing not which way to go. We have lost our bearings, lost our way, lost our Path.

Fauna reminds us that when we find ourselves lost in the dark Forest of Life, to listen to our wild Hearts, and follow the Deer’s Trail, and we will find our way.

Deer Trail by Heather L. Loyd, via Flickr

What does that mean, to follow the Deer’s Trail? Well, the Deer are creatures of habit, and travel well-worn paths through the woods and meadows. Their cloven hooves cut deep into the earth, and pack it hard into a narrow dirt trail. Their paths often intersect and overlap with the paths made by humans, and many a hiker has lost the human trail when they veered off unknowingly onto a deer trail.

But deer also go places humans wouldn’t think to go – but could go.. They go over fallen trees, instead of being stopped by them, trees you might have to climb over. They go under bushes in perfect tunnels – perfect for their size, and for your’s, too, if you’re willing to scramble and crawl through where they go with ease.

Deer who doesn’t want to get his hooves wet!

Many’s the time I’ve run down a deer trail, barefoot, hair flying, as One with the Earth, being the Wildling I am in my Heart. And many’s the times the deer trails have shown me unexpected routes through, around, over or past obstacles.

Sometimes we look for a way forward in our lives, a clear trail, and seeing only our obstacles, we don’t see how we can do it, but if we’re willing to view them from a different angle, to scramble & climb, the Path may become clear. That is following the Deer Trail.

Once upon a time, following a deer trail literally saved my life.

Many years ago, when I was in my 20’s, my husband & I were looking for land to buy, and checking out Tennessee around the Smoky Mountains. We had already looked once at an incredibly beautiful and huge piece of land, something like 2-300 acres. Before we made an offer, we wanted to give it one final, really good, going over, since that’s a lot of land to check out.

We had parked our trusty Suburu at the gate & walked in, marveling at the forests, the open meadows, large cedar trees, beautiful big rugged stones, and a lovely lake. It was gorgeous, and I just loved it.

Poly Tunnel

Then we came to an area that had a tractor sitting by it, and a large tilled spot. There were three very long poly tunnels over it, the kind you use to protect plants from frost. It seemed to me that first frost should have been past, and I could see some of the plants were just about touching the tops of the inside of the tunnels, which were around 4′ tall, but I couldn’t see what they were.

So I took a look, as did my husband. They sure weren’t the tomatoes under my poly tunnels at home! No, they were pot plants, and each tunnel had plants in different stages of growth. The oldest plants were starting to bud, and were almost ready for harvest.

We looked at the sheer number of plants, looked at each other, realised our car was parked at the gate by the road, and said in unison, “We’ve got to get out of here, NOW!” It had to have been hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of weed, street value, if not more. This was backwoods Tennessee. We knew what would happen if we were caught up there – we’d just disappear. And nobody even knew where we were.

Then we heard the sound of an ATV heading our way, and decided we would be better off to split up – that way there was a higher chance at least one of us would make it out alive. We took off, running for our lives, in different directions, on land we didn’t know at all, this only being the second time we’d set foot on it.

I wound up coming to a hill that led to the creek that bordered the property, and I knew if I got to the creek I could follow it to the road.

Greenbrier Vines

My feet flew as I followed a deer trail down the treacherously steep hill, only to find, half-way down, that the entire bottom of the hillside, as far as I could see, was covered in a giant thicket of greenbrier, 6 or 7 feet high. It looked completely impenetrable, and to my eyes, the deer trail just ended at the edge of the greenbrier… until I leaned down, and saw it went into the greenbrier thicket.

I heard the ATV getting closer, and voices, but they couldn’t see me yet, so I followed the deer trail, into the greenbrier. The deer apparently aren’t bothered by the thorns, and I found a well worn tunnel they’d made, about 3′ high, with dirt on the bottom.

I crawled thru the greenbrier on hands and knees, while it grabbed at my clothes, my arms and legs, slowing me down. At one point, I froze when I heard the ATV stop at the top of the hill, and people talking. I was completely hidden in the seemingly impenetrable greenbrier thicket.

They moved on, and I eventually emerged, scratched all to heck, but the deer trail had saved me. I met my husband at the car and we took off, and passed on Tennessee entirely!

There is always a Path for us to follow, although at times it’s hard to see. For those of you struggling, who can’t see a way forward, listen to your Heart, and try looking for your Path from another angle. The way may be found in an unexpected place… and you might have to crawl through some briars first. But you will find your way again!

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