Letters From the Earth
Final Essay: Freedom
15 MArch, 2011
A Walk Between Worlds
A great blue heron stands silently near the edge of a small lake. Partially concealed by a stand of pampas grass, she waits. It is not quite dawn, and the forest makes no sound. The sounds of last nights crickets and frogs have disappeared into the mist that hugs the shore of the lake. Gone too, is the screeching of owls, the night hunters, who glide silently overhead, patiently searching for that one mouse or vole that has been unwary, and is caught off guard.
Throughout the forest there is tension. Tension that comes from the coming change. Everything feels it. The time of the great sleep, the period profound and restorative rest, that great slumber called Winter, is nearly at an end. The silence, the crisp cold, the small patches of remaining snow, are but delicate appetizers, to the prelude, of the bountiful menu that is Spring. Change is indeed coming.
It is nearly the full moon. The early morning sky is changing from the void of near blackness, to a full and earthy blue. The stars are clearly visible in both the heavens and the lake. Draco, Betelgeuse, and Cassiopeia’s Chair hold their familiar places, in the pantheon of celestial friends. To the east, the mountains are turning to shades of purple and blue. Above, the faintest hint of baby blue sky, conceals the first of the Sun’s intensity. The whole valley is holding its breath, waiting. Waiting for something.
Ian feels it too. He is awake. His large, friendly blue eyes still closed, but it is there. An inner gnawing. Something, he is not sure what, is amiss. Lying in his bed of fresh clover, insulated from the cold by several handwoven wool blankets carefully layered between animal skins of bear, wolf and hart. He takes a long, slow, silent deep breath. And then another, and another. For several minutes he continues his breathing, allowing his mind and heart to awaken to this fresh new day. Despite his intuition telling him that there may be some kind of mischief afoot, he remains calm and open, to the many possibilities that today present.
Opening his eyes for the first time he sees the great blue heron. While most would see just a majestic bird with powerful wings, Ian sees more. The heron is a messenger. Bringing him a message of patience. Ian is being asked to prepare for an arduous inner journey to the underworld and perhaps, beyond. Suddenly, the heron takes flight. Its massive wings pound hard against the cold morning air. On each downstroke the morning mist is scattered and the sound of her wingbeats echo across the lake, stirring the forest into wakefulness.
Sitting up, Ian carefully rolls up his bedding and ties it with a long knotted cord. Standing up, he walks a few steps to the western edge of the lake. To the north is the river that follows a twisted path for many miles until it reaches the sea. To the south west the river descends. Gently at first, but soon becomes a series of small waterfalls, as it cuts it way through rock and glacier on its journey to the valley floor. Turning south, Ian walks quietly. His boots of fur and hart skin make almost no noise, even as Ian picks up his pace to a brisk walk. “Excellent morning for a hike,” Ian mutters to himself.
Ian is a tall man, in his mid-thirties. His copper-colored, shoulder length hair is braided, and interwoven with beads and feathers. He wears a simple brown cotton tunic, and a forest green kilt, worn in the traditional, over-the-shoulder style. Held in place with a simple broach, made from the hip bone of the same bear that his cloak is made from. A woven belt on his waist holds four items. A dagger for defense, a medium sized pouch containing a dozen or so different herbs, a crescent shaped copper knife with a bone handle, and finally a medium sized gourd, holding water. Across his back is his bed roll, a quiver of gray goose fletched arrows and a sturdy bow, made of oak and strung with sinew. Ian continues his journey down the trail from the high mountain lake.
Walking in near silence, he continues at a forthright pace. More messengers come to him. Blackbird, or in the old tongue, Druid-Dhubh, reminds him to heed his inner call, and seek the gateway to the other realms. A wild boar races quickly across his path, and Ian is reminded of his leadership, to remain focused and directed in his quest, but most all, this day, he must inherit the warrior spirit of his ancestors. A trio of bumble bees lead Ian further down the trail. They speak to him of community, and the importance of celebrating each day. Slowly, during his hike the entire forest speaks to Ian and it is revealed to him what he must do.
Nearing a thicket of blackberries Ian sits down. It is mid afternoon and he has been walking for many hours. Taking this opportunity to rest, to eat and to refill his gourd with water at the river, that is never more than a few feet from the trail, Ian ponders the rest of his journey. It will be nightfall by the time he reaches the last of the waterfalls. Refreshed, the berries and water clearing the cobwebs from his head, Ian continues his journey. He walks for many hours, lost in his thoughts and munching on the remaining blackberries, and the few hazelnuts from the pouch on his waist.
As the sun sets across the western valley, the forest trail grows dark. Shadows lengthen. Trees, not yet blessed with Spring’s burst of green, transform into withered skeleton bones, giving this normally bright forest a frightening and foreboding look. It will be several hours before the full moon will light the final steps on his path. It matters not. Ian is a man of the forest. He knows this trail by feel, by smell and by sound. Winding his way down the trail, Ian begins to tire. The long days hike, the continued downward slope is making his knees wobbly, and his feet become more and more unsure of themselves. Ian lumbers onward as the trail begins to widen and flatten. Nearly exhausted, he reaches the edge of a clearing and through the darkness he sees the faint flicker of firelight. Leaning against the coarse bark of a birch tree, Ian catches his breath, refreshes himself with the last of his water and then encouraged by the fire, he presses on.
The simple fire stands at the center of a grove of hazel trees, and is being tended by two of Ian’s oldest friends. Saleem, is tall, with broad shoulders, and his sister, Eileen, is also quite tall. They both smile and laugh a bit as they greet Ian, who is breathing hard, covered in sweat, but is nonetheless capable of letting out a resounding “Hoy Hoots” at the sight of his friends. Eileen, hugging Ian’s neck, “wasn’t sure you’d make it,” as she tugs at his beard and kisses his cheeks. Saleem is equally excited to see him, “everything has been prepared,” and Saleem hands Ian his robe. Taking the robe Ian takes a short walk to the bank of the river, removes all his other clothing and dives in. The water bites at his skin. Fresh with melted snow, Ian wonders how this could be the same river, that so warmly greeted him barely some six months ago. Saleem holds the dark blue robe for his friend as he shivers and shakes off both water and the cold. Ian and Saleem rejoin Eileen around the fire. Ian hands Eileen the herbs he gathered the night before, and she in turn rubs them between her hands and drops them into the pot of boiling water, that is sitting in the center of the fire. Ian then hands an odd looking fungus to Saleem, who smiles, and quickly sets about preparing the fungus and the rest of the ingredients for their simple meal. Saleem is Eileen’s younger brother, and he wears a plain purple robe that has been dyed with blackberries. Both Eileen and Ian wear robes of carefully woven linen, that have been repeatedly dyed in woad. Each of their robes are decorated with simple yet fine silver thread in keeping with their status as co-leaders of their clan. Saleem announces that he is ready, and that he will now light the fire in the cave behind them. While Saleem makes the cave ready for them, Eileen and Ian gather up the herbal tea she has made and the root vegetables and fungus that Saleem has prepared.
It is not a large cave, but it is well hidden from the outside. No flames or drumming sounds will be heard outside of it. The walls are brightly painted with pictograms, of hunting, dancing and the many vision quests of their ancestors. The three sit around the small fire Saleem has built, as Eileen pours the tea into a large treenware mug. Ian places the bowl of food between himself and Eileen. She lifts the mug as Saleem begins to pound out an ancient clan rhythm on his large round drum. Eileen looks intensely at Ian, drinking the tea,” May violence fade from our memories,” as Ian takes the mug from her. Ian holds the mug high over his head and stares quietly at the fire and his powerful voice fills the cave, “May there be peace.” Ian fishes the tea and places the mug into the fire. The mug is quickly engulfed in flames of green and red, and soon blends into main portion of the fire. Picking up several pieces of root vegetable and fungus, Eileen and Ian quickly chew and swallow them. “May abundance flourish and spread, may hunger and want become distant memories.” Repeating these words of those who have come before them, and remembering the many times they themselves, since they early youth, have repeated these same words, Eileen and Ian allow the moment to consume them as they stare into the fire. Saleem’s drumming intensifies, becoming both louder and faster. Then with out a word he stops. “It is time.”
Ian and Eileen lie down on the prepared animal skins, with the tops of their heads just touching one another. Saleem gently blends their hair with feathers, fresh herbs and scented oil, in a loose but intricate braid. Eileen and Ian are about to travel, travel between the worlds. The touching of heads and the ceremonial braid ensure that this gifted couple, having spent many lifetimes in each others company will travel together on this night of the full moon. No one but Ian and Eileen knows where they go. Saleem will watch over their bodies, and tend the fire during the trance that will soon overtake his older sister, and best friend.
Ian and Eileen are two of many that since birth have the gift of traveling between worlds. Unlike the many, they have not forgotten their connection to the land, to the ancestors and they vital role they play in continuing the traditions of their clan. This allows them to keep the precious gift of sight, of vision, and the ability to walk between the worlds. Around their necks they each hold two halves of a simple gray stone. As they lightly rub the stones, Ian and Eileen begin to drift, dream, and as their breathing slows, they enter a peaceful trance-like sleep. This is what they do at every full moon. They travel from one world to the next. With them they take the lessons and wisdom they have learned, share it with the world on the other side, and in return they bring wisdom back with them. Together, Ian and Eileen continue an unbroken tradition that spans a thousand generations, perhaps more.
It is raining and Ian’s hair is matted and wet. To look at him, one would see no separation between his long gray hair and his even longer gray beard. Both have become hopelessly knotted and tangled during the night. He is cold. Ian is awakened by the moaning wail, that erupts from the horn of a great blue Honda. He reaches next to him, as always Eileen is there. She touches his cheek and they sit up, and huddle close underneath their 21st century animal hides. Bear, wolf and Hart skins replaced now with skins of Maytag, Frigidaire and Panasonic. Ian offers Eileen an orange that he has pulled from the pocket of his tattered gray trench coat. Taking the orange, Eileen leans her had on Ian’s shoulder, “may there always be enough,” as Ian connects the two halves of stone around their necks. Together they form a spiral, and the Gaelic word for peace. Next to them is a shopping cart. It is filled with everything Eileen and Ian own in this world. On the side is the symbol for the Tao, Yin and Yang. The Way. Beneath the symbol reads, “Safeway.” When the rain stops, this happy couple, nearly in their seventies, will walk the streets and share the wisdom they have brought with them.
Who decides where our freedom lives? Is it dependent on our ability to wield the power that our relative status in this world allows us? Or are we capable of more depth, more compassion and fully capable of being in control of our own creative expression in this world? Where do our dreams begin and end, and what makes us so sure that we are right about the answer? Perhaps this is it. That great and ancient Koan, known as freedom.