May 9


The remoteness of this splendid country consumes me. Mountain spirits move like shadows cast by thought alone. The edge of periphery darts and dashes about as though the curious can’t resist our delectable presence. I try to catch them with a swift turn of my head or subtle shift in my eyes. But I am always caught and they jump out of view as if tethered to my changing vision. The spirits of trees cast uncanny shadows too, contrasting silhouettes of illusions that align with nothing. Moss, changeless and still now moves like a thick stream of green velvet. Breaks in the flow open and close as though the ghost of a great stag follows our lead with cautious and invisible interest. The rustling of branches surrounds us while the breeze fails to ruffle a single feather. My awareness is peeked to the electrifying charge, my attention so fixed I fail to blink, even breathe lest I miss some exquisitely subtle detail. I stop to admire emerging colonies of snowdrops and fiddleheads, not realizing that Moondog and Darkling Light have disappeared. Panic seizes me and I find myself running. It was simply a bend in the trail, I am breathless and feel absolutely foolish. They are too polite to notice. Ahead a small meadow opens up. Light streams in on a sparkling seep in which grow vivid stands of lush grasses. Moondog suggests that we stop for a moment to take it in, silently cognizant that I need to catch my breath and regain my composure. So many creatures are busy at this holy well. There are dragonflies above and salamanders below the surface of the water. Iris are making up in haste now that the spring has cracked the relentless spirit of winter. Shavegrass tips emerging, some tall enough to reflect, bent and rippling; submerged self-portraits bewitch me. The image is confounding. I can shift my eyes and catch a glimpse of the forest admiring itself in the looking glass. Clouds and the immeasurable breadth of blue are snared in the same mirror. I could sit here for the rest of my life, spellstruck, watching the mystery open and close its infinite portals, the very reason why Moondog takes my arm and leads the way back into the forest.

The day drifts lazily to sunset. Now Moondog and Darkling Light are keeping a vigilant watch on me. The trees grow older as we move deeper and deeper into the dark range. Their trunks are thick and enormously tall. I look up and up, amazed by the density of the canopy. Little grows in perpetual twilight. Occasionally collections of fiddleheads appear and fade away. Moss carpets everything, fallen trees, ancient roots, and mushrooms cluster like troupes of masked dancers controlling the attention of their audience. I am a captive held prisoner by the startling realization that we could be the first to ever pass through the splendor of this mystical world.

Without warning Moondog mentions that our camp is just ahead. Suddenly I find myself swallowing hard. We are about to layover in this primeval and endless stand of old growth, sleeping giants that awaken at night, pull up their roots, and walk among friends.

I don’t know how to cope with this. I have felt fear before; I have been anxious, anticipatory, nerve-wracked, and afraid, but never consumed by terror. Warriors, master magicians, flank me and yet I am overwhelmed. No longer enthralled by the containing edge created by the fire, I feel trapped in an illusion of light, a beacon for the predatory. I am a quick study for them because of the attention that escapes at the pace of my racing heart. They pick up my scent and lick their lips. Moondog and Darkling Light patiently await an essential shift in my intent as I adapt to the unfathomable world of strangling nightblack. I am more unnerved by the stillness than any cacophony of clatter could ever make me. I feel the old longing for the contrived safety of my old and insidious life.

It sounds like a whispered chant coming from Darkling Light’s core, a tenor, incantatory murmur. The descant is filled with the deep resonance of Moondog’s voice. They are quietly reeling in my attention and it feels like the blessing of famine food surging through my veins. The frenetic energy in my head re-patterns itself to the rhythmic repetition and in moments I am singing with them, transcending the paralyzing fear that controlled me. It’s a rhythm I can feel in my soul, a monotone that has no melody, neither song nor music. Their voices invoke visions of ice sheets that crest at the pinnacles of mountains. Hunters make their way through the drifts of white that bank against stray boulders. Beyond them a herd of mammoths root through the snow for a glimpse of green fodder. Steam rises from their shaggy bulk. Gazes are fixed and spears are poised for the kill. The memory resolves.

The depth of sound emulates shifting plates that thrust and crush mountains. I detect the deafening rumble of an avalanche, the tsunami of sound that precedes great winds that shatter forests in their wake. I hear distant thunder, the base voices of stalking predators, the dance of the aurora, and the crescendo of falling stones. The song is as old as the Earth, as primal as the mist of primordial forests and the shimmering heat that ripples across the savanna. Moondog and Darkling Light are singing antiquity and everything in the nightblack pauses to remember. I remember too and in that memory resides the confidence of belonging precisely where I sit, entombed in darkness, surrounded by spirits of primeval perfection. Now I am drifting, dancing with the fire.

High pitched sighs of igniting resin are followed by bursts of sparks that dance up and away, twinkling, disappearing like meteor showers. The wood shifts and the flames breathing in the surge of life briefly illuminate the canopy. The fire is singing its own medicine song, older than the voices of water, air, and earth. The fiery first voice of Creation, memorized by every single creature that has come and gone since the beginning. Fire, the virulent destroyer comforts me as an old soft blanket would, warm, dreamy and safe. Round after round Moondog and Darkling Light sing long into the night, harmonizing with the fire, contrasting the depth of darkness.

I feel them long before I see them. Even as the songs continue unimpeded my drift reshapes itself to an acute state of heightened awareness. I am no longer afraid. Instead of staring into the impenetrable darkness I close my eyes and watch with my mind. Whatever it is it moves silently, steadily towards our camp. I know that it is no more than ten paces away and closing in. Breathing with deep deliberation I wait. Now! I open my eyes and there they sit before me warming outstretched hands at our fire. Moondog and I encountered them before, in the pristine wilderness south more than a hundred miles from here. Like now, they appeared out of nowhere, a group of small, dark men dressed in skins that had perhaps been dyed red long, long ago. Although they didn’t look elderly their presence invoked a sense that they were utterly ancient. They bore only a distant resemblance to our people and yet I knew at once that they were my relatives. It had been whispered that such a race existed, ancestral spirits that were so entirely at one with nature that they simply faded into Her wonder. They moved among us, unseen, unheard. And yet they are mortal, the keepers of the oldest stories, an unbroken line back to the ice from which they had emerged.

It is a privilege to sit with them again. They are a band of Ancient Ones that sit quietly, peacefully, sharing the warmth of our fire. The primoprimitive song that Moondog and Darkling Light sustain called them in. It is their song, carried in the cosmic wind throughout all of eternity. I watch them intently, yearning to reach into their immemorial knowledge for a stunning taste. But the bridge has long crumbled away and the gulf between us ever-widens. They know it too. A fire separates us by only a few feet but we both sense it as a million miles lost to the annals of mystery. A gripping urge drives me to my feet, walks me around the fire, and I find myself kneeling beside one of them. I look deeply into his eyes, pools of exquisite, unknowable wisdom. His eyes are gentle, invitatory, and I touch his face, run my hand over his shoulder and down before taking his hand in mine. It’s a strong, human hand, unexpectedly soft but well worn by the expense of his life. As I hold it I look into his eyes again, no more than a foot from mine, and he smiles. Tears overtake me. At some forgotten moment I slip into sleep with the percipience of immortal, indefinable assurance. I awaken briefly, the songs have long concluded. My companions are asleep, and our visitors have faded once again into the forest.

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