by Morwen Two Feathers
|(photo by Cherrie Corrie)|
As soon as I am among the trees I feel at home. The patch of woods behind our house is just large and thick enough to shield me from all view of the surrounding houses. Only the distant sounds of children playing hint that I am not completely alone in the wilderness. I make the rounds, checking to see if any of my fairy houses are occupied. The good smell of clean dirt greets my nose as I carefully clear away the leaves and pine needles that have fallen onto the furniture I constructed of sticks and bark. The skunk cabbages whose tiny shoots I nibbled on just a few weeks ago have unfurled into broad stinky leaves as big as my head. I suspect the fairies are hiding there among the smelly plants, where they know I will not search. I continue my rounds, cleaning up the messes that Mother Nature has made, moving dead tree limbs off the path, brushing pine needles off the boulders, making my way back to the bramble-patch where I will reward myself with the raspberries that are probably ripe by now.
Like all children, I know the woods are alive. Not just the birds and squirrels and the myriad of insects that crawl and hop and fly in all their fascinating glory, but the woods itself. The trees have personalities, and the rocks appreciate tending. And most of all, there are the fairies. I never imagined them as pretty little girls with wings. By the time I ever saw any pictures like that I’d already had my own first-hand experience with fairies and I knew they aren’t like that. Not that I could tell you what they do look like. They are more of a feeling, really. Much older than those little sprites in the pictures, and a little scary even, because of how much they know everything. They know everything because they are part of everything.
The first time I felt the fairies was in this very same woods, but I’ve felt them lots of times since then. Sometimes you can even feel them in the city. It’s that feeling that happens when you are in certain places and you get a tingle that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Even if there aren’t any people around you just know someone is watching you. I know they can see what I do and it makes me a little more careful.
One time I was playing with my friends in the stream down at the end of the road. Just past the cul de sac there’s a gully where the creek cuts left to right, coming out of a culvert a little ways upstream and winding through mud and scrub into a field way down behind the houses. Across the stream the sandy bank rises steeply to forest. Now it’s summer and there’s hardly a trickle in the ditch, but back then it was spring, there was real flowing water thigh-high in places, and we were on an adventure to see how far downstream we could wade. I was holding my sneakers up high over my head as my bare feet picked my way from rock to rock, feeling the current caress my calves and knees. Behind me I could hear my friends chattering about school. I was in the lead, and was coming to the place that was as far as we had ever been. I looked up at the sun through the trees to see how much time we had, and that’s when I felt it. Between my thighs, the streaming water was suddenly solid, a long black sinuous shape sliding its entire length along my leg as it rode the current down. I gasped, and took a breath to scream when it turned aside into a marshy eddy on the side of the creek, lifted its head and looked right in my eyes. Everything stopped and the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. Right then I knew that snake had a soul, just like me.
I could feel the fairies watching me. It was like every leaf and blade of grass and even the clouds were paying attention to see what I would do. I swallowed my scream because I didn’t want them to think I was afraid, or worse, mad at the snake. The moment stretched, my gaze locked with the being in the water. As my friends came splashing up behind me, the snake slid back into the water and disappeared downstream. Time started again. I didn’t tell them what happened, because you just don’t talk out loud about some things.
Sometimes when I am in bed at night, I get a feeling of falling straight up out of my bed and through the ceiling of my room, up past the trees and clouds and even the stars, all the way up into space, into the middle of the big Nothing. Then I see how huge the world is, and how tiny and insignificant I am compared to everything. It makes my stomach jump around just to think about it. When I was smaller I couldn’t make the feeling go away by myself and I had to go snuggle with my mom to make it stop. Now that I’m bigger, I can manage to stay in my bed if I remember to breathe. It’s not easy to breathe when your heart is pounding and your stomach wants to turn your whole body inside out, but it helps when I remind myself about the fairies. Even though they are older than old and part of the hugeness of everything, they notice me so I must mean something.
When I was a very little girl playing outside with my friends, I always thought they felt the fairies too, even though we never talked about it. I just assumed everyone knew they were there. But now we’re getting older and I’m not so sure. My friends don’t want to hang out in the woods anymore, and they would rather talk about boys than listen to birds. So I come to the woods by myself now, to sit on this rock and eat raspberries and listen to the voices of the trees in the wind. I don’t think the fairies are something to grow out of, in fact the older I get, the more important I realize they are. The fairies are the spirits of all there is, and when I listen to them I learn how to treat the world. If other people don’t understand that, then it’s even more urgent that I do. I know my friends think I’m a little weird, and my parents worry that I spend so much time by myself in the woods. But I don’t care. The raspberries are delicious, the chipmunks are amusing, and the trees tell me their secrets in long, whispering verses. And when I remember that snake looking me in the eye I know it is a part of me, just like everything else on this wild and boisterous planet. I feel the fairies smile when I think that. Popping another raspberry into my mouth, I smile back.
[This was originally published in Gaian Voices. Morwen Two Feathers grew up in the Connecticut River valley in Northern CT. Now she lives in the Assabet River watershed in Concord, MA, where she has been known to develop personal relationships with rocks and trees.]