I went out walking with two friends,
Allured by the sun after long, clashing rains.
To examine colorful splashes upon the hillside
Left by newborn wildflowers,
Or to ascend to greater heights over the ocean
And over our own lives.
To absorb the sunlight into the depths of our skin,
To be nourished by the Mother beyond all mothers.
The time we walked streamed by
Yet towards its end
The beginning seemed long ago.
Sliding along dry, angled paths
Into the heady shade of bay trees,
The temperatures dropping vast degrees
Between spring’s sun and clinging winter’s shade.
Our track narrowed and descended,
Hiding under slippery, silken leaves,
Or widened into the doorstep of Earth’s blood
Splashing among rocks
That bore our weight without pains.
A height ascended, the entrance unlocked
From the corner of childhood memories’ rusty trove,
To the sacred medicine wheel,
Blessed by whom we did not know.
Silence blanketed, but for the wind.
For a time our number separated,
In body and sometimes in mind.
A direct line from my heart
Led to the shady islands on the furthest curve
Of the blue depths
Silently swelling the full descent below.
So high that no straight lines existed,
Each curve led to another,
Circling, circling our world.
As we returned, I slowed, last in line.
Perhaps a passing cloud,
Perhaps a ripple in the fabric of time,
But for a moment the illusion broke.
Or the illusion was made.
The solidity of the green shaded mountain
Fluttered before me,
As if a breeze had ruffled its reality.
My companions did not notice.
As though an invisible hand
Had grabbed hold of the ripple,
The rich cloth of the landscape
Was ripped away
Revealing iron scaffolding,
The true structure of the world.
We walked upon a massive stage set,
So well painted and textured
As to hold the delusion of reality.
The light of the sun, snatched away,
The rich blues of the sky, vanished.
A heavy, brown darkness covered all,
There was nothing to see
But the endless black leagues of scaffolding,
Lit only from below
By a glowing vermillion ember,
The putrid heart of the operation,
Driving it forward
Constantly and endlessly, constantly and endlessly.
My feet carried me onward,
But I held no awareness that I moved.
“Let’s say a blessing,” came a distant voice,
Pressing through osmosis
Into the pores of my lost reality.
The vision was gone.
Or, the vision was restored.
I stood between my two companions,
My feet in the clear trickles of a shallow stream.
We each looked up
To a rich monument of calla lilies,
Grown luscious from the spring waters,
Their sacred candles burning toward the sky.
I marveled at their curvature,
Their striving perfection.
I closed my eyes, hoping to be held in blessing.
My inward eye saw two images:
The furnace-driven iron bars,
And the crown of lilies above it.
Can reconciliation lie in this?
Questions flashed and flowed,
Of illusions, reality, layers, enchantment.
I let them sweep around me with the ocean wind,
Through me to my soul.
I opened my eyes,
Finding myself alone
Standing solidly before the flowers.
I looked forward.
My companions had pressed on,
And I wished to follow.
I began to breathe deeply, as I never had before, sensing out my own sustainable rhythm, wondering if I had the strength for a full session of such intensity. My body began to rock back and forth with the force of my breath.
Soon the pain in my neck injury became overwhelmingly dominant, tensing my jaw and seizing up my mouth. I desperately tried to release it. I felt that this pain was all there was, and all this experience was going to be. The image of the place I injured myself appeared clearly in my mind, and began to feel a surge of anger for the burden of this injury. I cried burning, angry tears. My body started moving, to find any way to release the pain, stretching through various yoga poses and finally pushing my head into the ground. I asked to have my neck pressed against, while I pushed back with all the frustration and anger of built-up pain. With a yell that surprised the quieter side of myself, I felt spent, and dropped to the floor. Curiously, the pain seemed gone.
Pale greens and blues appeared below me. I was a butterfly, with the orange and black patterning of a monarch. I was drifting over a pond, seemingly endless: a sky blue pond covered in a sheen of green plants.
I lay on my back and felt my belly swell, pregnant with the whole Earth. I could see the oceans and shapes of the continents in their rich colors across the surface of my skin. A question kept running through my head: “How do you give birth to the entire Earth?”
I sat up and felt myself transforming into a tree, my hair going deep into the earth as roots seeking out the waters at the heart of planet. My arms extended toward the sky and sunlight as growing branches.
As the music shifted, I plunged into tropical seas, still in the form of a butterfly, yet able to easily swim through the waters. A great whale appeared before me, swimming with me, over me, around me, twisting and diving. It was a dance through the undulating waves. I learned how to keep breathing beneath the water, and also how to breach the surface for greater quantities of air. I saw a tropical volcanic island rising out the ocean beside us.
The whale and I dove down, deep into the purple-black depths of the ocean. I was not afraid, although I felt I should be. At the base of the volcanic mountain a small, glowing opening became visible. The whale entered and, a moment later, I followed.
Inside the volcano stood a column of glowing flame, reaching to the mountain’s summit. The whale was gone, yet seated by the inferno was a golden griffin, embodying the whale’s spirit. The griffin looked at me, then flew straight up the flames of the volcano and out of my sight.
I wanted to follow, yet found I could not fly. I saw I had arms and legs and though I still had butterfly wings they could not bear me through this heat. I looked up, not knowing how to proceed.
As though in answer to my question, a thin ladder descended to me. It was made of spun ropes of white light. I gained my footing and began to climb, continuously looking below as the floor of the volcano moved further and further from me.
As I reached the volcano’s top and ascended out of the mountain’s core, I realized the volcano was now dormant. The rim of the opening was covered in rich, green mosses and tiny white flowers. I ran my fingers along the edge, feeling the soft sponginess of the plants. I stepped out of the opening and began tentatively to descend along the rocky slope. A valley lay below me, with the turquoise sea along the shore to the left, and a line of hills and mountains to the right. I was looking at the world with which I had been pregnant.
As I departed the slopes of the volcano and entered the lush valley, I encountered the tree I had previously become. I looked at her and knew she was me, yet was also aware that my consciousness inhabited my current body. I lay down at the tree’s base, curled around the trunk. I felt my body transform into an earthworm, and began burrowing into the Earth, descending and burying myself deeper into the soil among the tree’s roots. I consumed the rich, moist earth and felt it pass along the length of my body.
After some time beneath the ground, I looked up at the tree and into its branches far above. Purple butterflies danced among the emerald green leaves. I longed to join them. I started to climb through the rough bark of the tree, inching my way along, until I became aware I was now a little, fuzzy caterpillar, climbing up the trunk, hoping to reach the branches and the dancing butterflies.
I found a branch, my branch, and hung off of it. I began creating a dark cocoon around myself. It was sightless black inside, yet after some time within the chrysalis a peach glow filled my sight. The space was dark and light, ebony and warm pink, in the same moment. I lay there, waiting, for an eternal expanse of time.
My physical arm was wrapped around my body and my hand rested on my left shoulder blade. My hand was tingling with numbness, and I felt this tingle spread from my hand throughout my back, the growing pains of wings sprouting. I lay still within my cocoon.
Slowly, so slowly, I at last started to emerge, but the crack in my chrysalis let in cold air. I was not yet ready to encounter the world.
At last the time came for my debut into the great world. I crawled out and perched on a branch. I sat there for a long time, perfectly still, with my wings spread open wide. Then, with the aid of a soft gust of wind, I fluttered onto a breeze and truly flew for the first time.
I dipped and soared over purple and yellow fields, through white dandelion puffs, and over a sparkling, indigo river that hugged the roots of the encroaching hills and mountains. Riding an air current, I was carried to the mountain summits, and viewed an unknown land beyond. Small cottages dotted the pastoral landscape. A stone church with lavender glass windows stood on a rosy slope.
I alighted on the church threshold. I was colored entirely white, with a human body and expansive, ivory wings. Barefoot, I walked into the dark, empty interior of this place of worship. I danced on my toes along the aisle, both defying and paying homage to this sacred space.
Beating my wings, I ascended up through the church toward one of the open windows and perched on the ledge. I looked below me to the stone church floor, then gazed out the window into the twilit landscape.
I took wing again, and flew into a majestic redwood forest, passing between the massive, ancient trunks as a tiny, bright butterfly. I began to hear the cries of those breathing around me, cries that sounded like every animal and every stage of human life. I felt their pain and knew it was my own; it was the pain of the entire Earth. Compassion and empathy poured from me like a warm stream, holding those around me, caring for these differed embodiments of our single universal soul.
I felt myself pregnant with the Earth once again and knew I had to birth it, to rebirth the Earth. How? I kept asking. How? I felt the immense responsibility of this task, knowing that if I did not accept it, no one would. But, how? Tears streamed from my eyes as I struggled to bear the weight of this realization.
I saw the whole Earth before me, suspended in blackness, and I fluttered around it as a giant monarch butterfly. I heard the joining of all voices; all sentient beings, every human and every animal, joined together in song. As they all sang together, I knew the Earth was healed. I cried to the depth of my being.
After a long period of resting, seeing nothing, feeling nothing, I found myself on a beach after sunset, the painted waves lapping around my ankles and calves. A tropical forest stood behind me. The waves were crashing, the trees swaying in a great wind. The trees began to fall, and I heard the wailing and mourning of the people who called the forest home. I stepped among the people in the forest and looked at the severed stump of a mighty tree. From the trunk’s center a shoot began to grow: fresh, supple and spring green, crowned with a single white flower. There always remained hope, I communicated to the people around me.
I stepped alone into a forest pool lit by moonlight and bathed, drinking deeply straight from the pouring waterfall.
I found myself again among the same tribe, and together we began to walk. I was leading them out of the forest and up a steep hill. As we reached the hill’s crest, a vast plain spread before us out to the sea. The sun hung low in the sky, coloring the landscape ruddy gold. These rich grasslands were to be our new home.
I was transported into the night slums of an endless, ruined city. Trash and broken glass, twisted metals and decrepit houses filled my entire vision. Once again I was the white being with ivory butterfly wings, and I stepped barefoot through the destruction before me. Shades passed silently among the buildings, indicating the presence of other beings, wrapped in tragedy.
Looking into the sky I saw this wreckage was illuminated by the full moon. Stepping onto a moonbeam I walked upward into the sky to dance with the moon. I felt as though I were escaping, yet when I looked below I saw green plants growing up between the cracks, covering and weaving together the broken world below. I looked around myself and danced among the silver gems of stars and the hanging pearl of the moon. I danced until my breathing slowed and I came to rest within my own body once again.
Lemon-sugar gingko leaves
Litter the hardening ground,
Lingering remnants of autumn past
Line the path inside.
Liminal land set in glass,
Luscious blooms and humid leaves,
A world within, a world without,
Lapping waters, warm air,
Water lilies, lily pads,
Epiphytes and orchids.
Remove the glass,
Ruin the leaves,
Reds, golds and vermillion
Would not bloom here.
Withered by wind,
Wrecked by rain,
Rattled by winter
Let the leaves live on
In their womb,
A lurid womb of glass.
Let the lilies bloom
Without lapse of season,
Moist moss meander
Slowly over slippery stones.
is in the sound
heard from an open window:
strands of long grass,
the sound of satisfaction
Soggy leaves lie drenched,
like forgotten cereal
in absorbed milk
A dancing line
of colorful domes,
umbrella mushroom caps,
process up and down
sheltering those beneath.
Their whirling colors
dazzle the landscape,
the grey landscape,
grey, green and dark brown.
the Earth cried
for the rain,
when it finally came.
all rivulets of life
pulled up in the roots of
chaparral, yellow grass,
old oak and redwood.
Rain is different here,
the world floods,
roads become rivers,
your feet drown,
your vision blurred,
your thoughts obscured.
mists rose from the rain
in redwood branches
turning the world
into a spun web
My sight becomes
Green and silver-white.
I am desperately grateful
for the sound
In the stillness of the world at the breath of dawn, I stand upon the deck of my longest home in this lifetime. Balanced upon the edge of a mountain, this house faces South poised in anticipation for the winter sunrise. A thick layer of pearly fog lies like a downy blanket over the valley below and stretches to the edges of the world. During the depths of the night the fog poured in from the ocean like wolves running stealthily over the Western hills. Yet it all lies calm before me now, appearing as a flat field of snow in the shadow light.
I am set high above the world, my vision unobscured by the fog, like a queen in an unwritten fairy tale, with a clearer view of the heavens than the earth below. As dawn approaches the veils of night are pulled back one by one, turning the sky from midnight black to a misty periwinkle. Where the sky descends to kiss the horizon it blushes a vermillion and rose glow that spills out onto the duvet of fog and stains it a pale magenta.
In the moment before sunrise the surrounding world holds its breath. An outline of pure, molten gold appears on the fog’s edge at a single point on the horizon. A moment passes. Then two. Not until after these moments have gone does one realize the sun has already begun to rise. These brief minutes are the only time of day the sun casts its long shadows with a coral-hued light. A wide scene unfolds below as the dark curtain of night is rolled back. The sun reveals the peeling olive paint and the warped boards of the deck upon which I stand. Growing on the railing are faded lichens entangled with brown pine needles that fell long ago. Pine cones become one with the balcony wood as they are overgrown and once more return to an earthy wholeness. Each ancient iron nail that dares poke its head above the surface of the wood casts a timid shadow. Yet the disrepairs of home can be forgotten in these brief minutes at the day’s commencement.
Each needle of the pine overhanging the deck fades from teal-black to a rich green in that moment when the sun ascends above the horizon. Secret crevices in the tree bark are momentarily unveiled as light pours in to awaken any sleeping creatures hidden during the night. A solitary hummingbird rests upon a slender branch. He is an old friend; the dancing hummingbird we call him. With each dawn, music pours forth from the open glass doors of the house to act as an instrumental mirror to the sunrise. The dancing hummingbird sways in rhythm to Grieg’s “Morning Mood” from his Peer Gynt Suite. A light breeze picks up the melody while the yellow California grasses whisper back in a sighing harmony. The air is crisp and fresh with the scent of dew upon the flowing breeze.
The winds descend into a small vale directly below the dilapidated deck and rustles amongst the foliage. The breeze turns the leaves in every direction revealing their pale bellies to the sunlight. Some leaves glimmer silver in the dawn’s light, others sparkle with a gold-copper tone. The little valley rises in the South-West to meet a low, rolling hill covered in a sea of short emerald grasses. The proudest feature of this hillock is a pair of redwoods growing side by side, one slightly taller than the other, standing like an amorous couple fixated only upon each other.
The redwoods are the only obstruction to the view laid out below me on the balcony. They hide the scene that lies beyond and also frame it, giving the view both perspective and depth. Beyond the redwoods stretches the melting blanket of fog which cannot remain under the sun’s rays. It dissipates into isolated patches and finally becomes nothing more than memory. Below, the interwoven valleys stretch on, filled with layers of misty trees backlit by the new sun. Full clarity has yet to come into the scene. Just beyond the edge of the last definable tree comes the golden glint of a vast expanse of water. The sun will never reach into the expansive deep that lies below the imperceptible waves of that bay. The morning sky unifies into a pale blue and the last stars are veiled. The sun reveals the earth only to hide the heavens. Everything the sun reveals will also cast a shadow and nothing in this scene will ever be entirely visible to our eyes or our minds.
The day was grey and windy and drops of fog clung to the soft, dark curls surrounding the little girl’s face. She was holding a bouquet of golden daffodils in one clammy hand, while the other clung to the hand of her mother. Her mother’s hand was dry and cracked from washing dishes and cleaning house. The little girl bent down and laid the flowers at the base of a black marble tombstone set deep in the damp grass. Across the face of the stone were carved images that set the little girl’s imagination to work. On the left side of the stone was carved a forest of pines, while on the right was a magnificent castle perched upon a cliff. Between the images was the inscription:
Merk Malcolm 1914 – 1986
Doris Malcolm 1920 – 1990
Mr. Merwin Eldred Schlarbaum hated his Christian name. His father’s best friend protested the name and insisted the baby boy be nicknamed Merky. World War I was nearing its end by the time Merky was four years old, and his father chose to change the family name which tied them to the then-despised Germans. He shed the name of Schlarbaum, whose sound when spoken with a Canadian accent did not reflect its meaning “Tree of Paradise,” and instead adopted his mother’s maiden name, Malcolm.
By 1939 Merky, then known as Merk Malcolm, set out from his home in Campbellford, Canada and traveled with a friend to Europe. Upon reaching Scotland, the Second World War broke out and Merk was stranded for the time being. While using his engineering training as the manager for wartime projects, Merk chose to live in Wick, Caithness on the north-eastern tip of Scotland.
Wick was a tiny fishing town with its harbor open to the cold, blue waters of the North Sea. Thousands of fishing boats came in daily, bearing pounds upon pounds of fresh herring. The docks were steeped in the tangy scent of fish and the sky was blocked out by the swooping wings of gulls.
Mr. Malcolm, upon arriving, took to exploring the town, all four corners of which could be reached within an hour from any point. He stopped in front of a classy hotel and glanced up at the swinging metal sign. The letters, spelling “Station Hotel” stood out clear and gold on a crimson background. He stepped over the threshold and noticed he barely had to lift his foot, the wooden step was so worn by passing feet. Above the light-filled entrance was a glass portico with great metal arches. A chipper old man standing behind the counter greeted Mr. Malcolm with a Scottish accent thicker than pea soup. After paying at the counter Mr. Malcolm was shown to his room. The furniture had a refined but well-used look to its deep mahogany wood. He walked across the room to set his suitcase down by the roll-top desk. The brass plate on the desk said “Mackenzie’s Furnishings” in a curling script.
That night, as Mr. Malcolm lay between the flannel sheets, he realized he could not afford to stay in a hotel for an indefinite amount of time while the war raged on in Europe. The next morning he got up early and walked to the old stone church at the upper end of Wick. It stood overlooking the bridge which spanned the mossy green river that traveled out of the mouth of the harbor. Looking up, Mr. Malcolm saw the river wind its way up through thick, pink and green grasslands dotted with white sheep.
Mr. Malcolm walked into the holy stillness of the church. He had come here to find someone with whom he could stay, because he believed the most trustworthy people could be found through the church. Reverend Sinclair, also called the Reverend R. R., was standing at the back of the church with a handwritten sermon in his hand. Reverend Sinclair was known for his lengthy speeches, one of which was interrupted well before the end by a little girl yelling “Amen, Reverend Sinclair! Amen!” The slight breeze from the open church door ruffled the Reverend’s greying, patchy hair. He looked up when he heard firm footfalls on the cold stone aisle.
“My name is Merk Malcolm,” the young man said with his over-pronounced Canadian vowels. “I was wondering if you could possibly help me find a family to stay with in Wick. I’m working now as a project manager for the war effort.”
“Ach, I see,” the Reverend said, “Well, the Mackenzies are taking in officers at the moment.”
Mr. Malcolm smiled gratefully and nodded. Mackenzie, he thought. The name sounded familiar.
The following morning Mr. Malcolm could be seen trudging up the hill from the bridge carrying his one suitcase. The “Scottish mist” that had begun half an hour before had filled the collar of his coat with water and plastered his dark hair to his head. At the top of the hill the streets leveled out and he turned right onto Thurso Street. Glancing at the damp slip of paper in his hand, Mr. Malcolm double-checked that the address was number six. The house was called Wyvelsfield. 6 Thurso Street. Walking on the right side of the street under a row of beech trees he looked left until he saw the brass address glinting through the rain: 6 Thurso Street.
Mrs. Mackenzie, affectionately called Mrs. Mack, was just finishing her early morning porridge. She sat erect in her chair at the foot of the table with her red hair pulled back in a tight bun and her pale lips pursed. Her lack of working taste buds concealed from her the fact there was more salt in her porridge than porridge. A normal mouth would be turned inside-out from the taste, and children were known to bring their spoons near their mouths and then drop the porridge into a well-concealed napkin. But to Mrs. Mack the porridge tasted fine.
In an old Scottish saying, an Englishman was berating a Scot for eating oats, which the English found only fit to feed to their horses. The Scotsman replied airily, “That’s why the English are known for their horses, while the Scots are known for their men.”
Mrs. Mack was just finishing her tasteful porridge when a tall, dark-haired, handsome man walked in through her front gates. Oh, she thought to herself, it must be one of those young officers to live with us. He looks well enough, though I fear this may bring trouble. And she rose from her chair with a sigh.
At the heavy knock, Mrs. Mack opened the front door. She greeted her guest with warmth and made her introductions.
“Oh,” she said, “And I have a daughter who’s in the giggly stage.”
Mortified, the eavesdropping, nineteen-year-old Doris Mackenzie was determined to prove her mother wrong. Miss Mackenzie was not the type of girl who cared much for what people thought of her. She was rather mischievous and had been known to steal fishermen’s dinghies and to set dozens of barrels of fish rolling along the docks.
Composing herself at the top of the grand spiral staircase, Doris pinched her cheeks and straightened the fashionable dress which showed off her petite waist. She laid her hand on the polished wood banister, her hand sweating slightly. Setting her foot on the first green carpeted step, Doris began gliding down the staircase. She glanced once at the handsome stranger at the foot of the stairs and nearly blushed. His eyes were following her every movement. However, she kept her head held high and her eyes straight ahead.
Suddenly, three steps from the bottom the toe of Doris’ little black shoe caught on the carpet. Both of her feet flew out from under her and all of her five-foot-two frame went tumbling down the remaining stairs. She landed in a disgruntled heap at the stranger’s feet. With apparent perfect dignity Doris held up her hand from where she was crumpled on the floor and, with her nose in the air, said, “I’m Miss Mackenzie.”
Cupid’s bow twanged.
Standing by the tombstone on the cold, grey day I knew the story of how my grandparents had met. For years I made up fantastic stories about my grandmother who had once lived in a great castle up in Scotland. The spiral staircase to me was larger than Jacob’s Ladder, and I pictured my beautiful grandmother tumbling not down just the last three steps, but from the top of the stairs all the way to the bottom in flying somersaults. As I grew up I realized that while the fairy tales I had imagined for my family might not be quite factually true, I did come to recognize that the true love at the end of fairy tales did exist and endure between my grandparents.