June 9

[Darkling Light]

Dancing Grass and I turned off the river road and picked up what was little more than a game trail. It meandered its way through the forest, stopping at streams and fern-filled glens, tarried in groves and made its way up the mountain. It followed the lines of energy imprinted on the Earth in the beginning. Animals have always known of these fortifying pathways and made a gift of that wisdom to our people. This trail and all others did not necessarily follow the path of least resistance the way in which water did. People followed water for efficiency and game trails for power.

The groves clung to their canopy of mist that kept the surrounding terrain in perpetual twilight. Wood sorrel and deerfern, mosses and mushrooms, flocked in glitter, carpeted the forest floor. Anywhere an old giant had fallen quickly filled with birch, dogwood, and snowrose, basking in the shafts of sunlight. With every step the exotic bouquet of forest detritus released itself to delight our senses. Oak leaves on their long journey to decay mingled with the heady perfume of violets and the sharp sent of the woods damp and humid in the wet wonder of morning. The trail led us through stands of mountain ash, oak, and holly. We came across far-reaching colonies of bearberry, firewort, and the legendary agaric. It was a thing to rejoice when untouched stands of rannoch rush were spotted still holding their own in this remote country.

The Old Granite Range was exquisite in its frugality and few ventured into the upper reaches. Berry pickers and hunters hugged the river road. In its heart this primeval forest was the domain of shades, shifters of shape, water nymphs, cave dwellers, and Ancient Ones. The forest slowly relinquished its grip to rare grasses and lichens that cloaked the stony gallery in their stories. Diminutive alpine flowers nestled between rocks; simpering and silly, whispered our presence to the resident spirits.

We made it into the highlands shortly before sunset, where we holed up for the night in the shelter of jagged giants just below the crest. Before we scrambled up to the summit Dancing Grass pulled together a small pile of sticks and grass for a later fire if we actually needed it. From the tor the river appeared as nothing more than a ribbon of silver on a swift journey north to the ocean. We knew Moondog and Gobetween were camped somewhere along Her banks and we speculated about where that might be, straining to see if we could spot a breath of smoke rising above the trees. North of them would be the Great Circle, invisible to our eyes but vivid in our awareness. Dancing Grass and I laughed thinking about the Greihound left there to poke fire. It was a daunting responsibility for three younglings and we wondered what spirits would come to sit at their fire by day only to haunt their dreams at night.

Dancing Grass and I then turned our backs to the river and took in the vastness that lay beyond the mountain. Deep in that pool of nightblack many miles away points of light twinkled as though a cluster of stars. That was our destination, that place where forest gave way to moors and bogs, my village. There the Crones of the Pine, Hawthorn, and Crabapple held the talking stick and the old ways were as embedded as body art. The Great Stag and his brother, the Roebuck, danced for abundance, and Owl prophesied about wondrous worlds. And there too, could be found the Antelope People, my people. Thanks to them the councils in which we would sit would feel like celebrated homecomings. My village was strong. The councils would be honoring antiquity rather than spilling out woeful, angry hearts.

I was still contemplating our troubled encounter with the village in the heathland. It had reached its apex and was well on its way to decline. I wondered how many would follow the trail signs north to the farming community and who would remain. Certainly old Spirit Chalk’s Willow clan would stay unless determined to disappear in the shifting multiverse of the Fens and Marshy Meadows. His sister, Singing Birdsong, moved in the same gossamer as her brother, untouched by the commonality of everyday life. Theirs was a world where prevailed only magic. While utterly private people otherwise, with willing-heartedness both brought that beauty and mystery to our people. Spirit Chalk and Singing Birdsong were renowned singers who knew every prayer ever sung in ceremony, songs thought to be thousands of years old and thousands in number. It was believed that both were Immortals and Spirit Chalk would return soon. Singing Birdsong had mentioned that she was most often gone to ritual and was unlikely to abandon her home. She said she admired the raw edge of humanity so prevalent in her village, so rare in her life. The contention and intrigue was the stuff of inspiration. Her songs were exquisite, and every bit a reflection of human life, that impossible union of ecstasy and misadventure.

Singing Birdsong had her share of cohorts too, Sings-in-Trees’ grandmother for one, equally out of place in that village. She was a Dogwood elder named Gray Beaver Bat. Gray Beaver Bat maintained a surprisingly out of place lodge, much like those belonging to the Wild Women of the Forest. It was covered with pelts, antlers, the berried branches of dogwood, and garlands of beaver teeth. Inside a colony of bats hung in the rafters amidst bundles of herbs and bones. The bats were shapeshifting spirits that had always been Gray Beaver Bat’s helpers.

There was Sundog’s Bearberry grandmother, Red Clay Woman, a revered spirit handler some thought to be the most frightening woman alive. And eccentric. She moved her lodge with the advent of every season, much to the woe and outright horror of her helpers.

Together, the three women probably had hundreds of allies from the spirit world, many as corporeal as you and me. I suspect the entire village could move and they would remain in the midst of where they had been planted long ago, or disappear together in the blink of an eye, lodges, spirits, and all.

[Darkling Light]

The challenging wind that had tracked us all day remained at our heels and seemed to pounce with great force the moment Dancing Grass and I arrived at my village. It piled up band after band of dark and somewhat ominous clouds as far as the eye could see. None the less a throng of well-wishers were delighted to see us. Among them stood Berry Bloom, the sister of Blue Ice, the wayward son of Clan Greihound. She was the premiere midwife of the Hawthorn. I was pleased to learn that she had finally put away her mourning for her lost brother, no doubt because her clan had been recently blessed with many robust newborns.

Bird Chant and his mother, Waxwing Wonder, were there too. She held perhaps the greatest knowledge of the moors and bogs ever amassed. Bird Chant had been, for many years, the intriguing apprentice to Spirit Chalk, and had become the Greihound’s elder artist after Spirit Chalk left. The two of them had a unique relationship, more like that of brothers rather than elder and student. I suspect Bird Chant had moments when he missed Spirit Chalk in ways so profound few of us could grasp the depth.

And finally there was Longbow and his Pine clan mother, Evergreen Flower. Longbow had gone from having been a Greihound stand-by for years to dreamer apprentice then dreamer elder in a single season. He was perhaps the most outstanding individual I had ever known, capable of standing in for just about anyone. I believe his genius had required many lives to cultivate. He had surely lived amidst our most ancient relatives; hunted, scarified, and, standing at their side, had painted his living myth on cave walls. Gobetween was the first new thing that had happened for him in what I thought might be ten thousand years. Together they stood as Clan Greihound’s Dreaming Twins. I often wondered how Longbow managed to contend with the scope of his vast awareness while always remaining delighted with life and spellbound by its mystery.

As elders all of them would sit in council with me beside many truly old spirit handlers and magic makers. Each of them had provided an element of splendor to my childhood and showered me with the secrets of their medicine. Whether practical or esoteric, not a piece had been set aside or thought lacking in significance. Catching a fish was as important as making a prayer, both were essential to life and therefore sacred.

In many places, where tentative steps were pushing hard toward the modern world, piece by piece the weight of the old way was left by the side of the trail. I was deeply grateful that my village stood with its ancestors, but we were about to lose the Heathland and a second one was on its way. The northern village was irreparably fractured. The old clans had moved off, elders were not being replaced by the newborn, and soon whoever remained standing would be scattered like fallen leaves on a windy day and absorbed into other villages. Mark my words, before a century or two has passed all will have followed their ancestors into the Shadowland and I will be with them. We will become nothing more than fantastical or frightening myths told to children to insure they toed the line, and nothing more. I suspect most sitting in council were similarly haunted and this ocean of concern would form the heart of what would be proffered to the Moon in the fall.

We sat in council for two days. It began as a gentle burble, overflowed, and eventually engulfed me. I wanted to be swept away forever into that older, more complete world. Instead I stood with the keepers, sober, firmly planted in a swiftly changing world that would issue like a deluge and shatter our bones against a cliff. But in some distant place someone would find a fragment, then two, then many. We know this to be true, we have our Gobetween.

Clan Antelope put up a wonderful feast before our departure and we celebrated simply being alive. Come daybreak Dancing Grass and I embarked for the village of the Old Granite Range to be a part of Solstice there. My secret longing for Moondog and Gobetween, held so close to my heart, could finally release itself into boundless joy. Due to the persistent weather our journey took three days but served wonderfully well at heightening my anticipation of being with them again.