When I picked berries in the mountain field that first summer I could sense wave after wave of feeling rising up – seeping into my feet from the ground below. The sun spread blue heat over the hills and I bathed in summer’s glow. For the first time in my life I felt visible, witnessed for who I really was and accepted: I was loved –unconditionally loved by a Mother. That She was a mountain field didn’t seem odd at all. I loved her back – fiercely. I marveled. To be in love with my goddess, the one that lived in this field, brook, young forest, the one who inhabited each of these rolling hills and mountains seemed so natural. Remarkably, She celebrated my presence not only by gifting me with a love that ran like a great underground river beneath me but because She created a palpable sense of belonging. I belonged to Her. She loved me just because I was. I couldn’t get over it. My gratitude knew no bounds. All I wanted to do was to serve her…
She was visible in so many ways – in the riot of purple and green jack in the pulpits that sprung out of the sphagnum moss behind the camp in the moist valley that often filled with water, through the solitary pink lady slipper that appeared by the bridge that crossed the brook, the tiny white swamp violets, the blue fringed gentians and pearl-white turtleheads that popped up in the meadow fed by it’s own spring in the center of the field.
I glimpsed her face in the cedar that sprung to life in the rich wooded soil that bordered the brook, she sang to me from the wild apple branches that bowed over rippling water, she blinked through each firefly night, burst into a “high” when thunder and lightening churned up the waters and the brook overflowed – White Fire crackling out of her clouds and slamming into me.
I moved here from the seacoast to live at the edge of the wilderness so I thought. The “power of place” had her own agenda. She decreed I had come here to re-claim childhood memories in these beautiful round tree studded granite mountains, and later to endure and make peace with the Dark Mother. During those first days I was flooded with images: My little brother and I playing in the brook, finding frogs and salamanders in the woods, chasing butterflies in the field, watching blue birds and fireflies, sinking into sleep under a star swept sky. How much I missed Davey! Sometimes it almost seemed as if he was hiding just out of sight. One blue morning the hawk circled over my head and I heard my brother calling. When I discovered her feathered wing in the field I believed that he lived again through me. Miracles happened here. Even his ashes found a resting place by this brook after 32 years spent in my mother’s stifling attic. Here the Mountain Mother will watch over him until the earth is no more. Is it any wonder I felt peace?
Whenever I walked down the hill through the field the intoxicating scent of fresh water pulled me like a lodestone towards the brook. Water, my first love was water; without it I shriveled like plants do in the late summer heat becoming dry lifeless heaps. Spring was my favorite season in the mountains because water was the only music I could hear around the camp – sometimes deafening in intensity it tumbled over the falls and cascaded over lichened stone – granite boulders rarely impeded the flow. The sounds of the swollen brook soothed me, quieting my racing mind, allowing images to flower into words, poems, or prayers of gratitude. Oh, I loved her so. And so it continued for a number of years…
I began to experience a darker side of the Mountain Mother when two intolerable family losses piled up on me like a cairn of heavy stones. I first saw her in the stark cliffs, in the ice that came too early and lingered to long, in the fierce winter winds that blew mercilessly, split tree limbs, in the mountains of snow that froze solid ripping off roof tops and caving in old homes. My dreams became dark and ominous full of dark men and darker women. I was full of rage and sorrow.
When the rape of the forest began I was in a state of disbelief, unable to process that so much tree destruction could occur with such relentless precision, could blot out ‘the peace of the wild things’ so absolutely without anyone noticing what was happening. This is when I learned that the “Tree of Life” is not a metaphor: rather trees are life because they not only provide most of Nature with the oxygen needed to breathe but they support wildlife by creating a “home place” for all. While the trees screeched and shuddered as they fell, owls and hawks disappeared. The gouged out earth flooded and the rain swept rich topsoil in great weeping rivulets down the now distorted face of the Mountain Mother. Many birds were silenced; all suffered habitat loss. Bears, deer, coyotes, beaver, woodcock and grouse, ducks and wild geese, fox and moose continued to be hunted down, shot and trapped by those who believe they had “god-given” rights to kill – not primarily for food, but for the thrill. A cranky mob of crows croaked and cawed from the tops of old snags, their numbers stable, perhaps a testament to Nature’s tenacity? Or were they a caucus of old bird women in disguise uttering unintelligible omens of what lay ahead? Nature was under siege and I couldn’t bear it. Her mirror was cracking. When the Mountain Mother turned her darkest face toward me I questioned my own sanity.
Year after year I struggled to make peace with the ongoing slaughter of trees and animals, with neighborhood bullies, with myself. When the gunning began in the valley, despair mushroomed even as I closed my windows to keep summer out. Hours of mindless target shooting, roaring trucks, earth-gouging machines, and belligerent thugs devoured the silence. Peace was on the run. Noise shattered what was left of the mirror. I grieved. Leave taking became reality. I put my house up for sale.
A month ago feeling overcome by sorrow I co-opted a song and re –wrote it. When I read it out loud with my two dogs, dove, and log cabin as witnesses, my voice cracked.
My Lady of the Shadows
All year long she touched me
Gathered me to her soul
Shrouded in moon and stars
She held me thorns and all
And the Light came through her body
And the Night fell through her grace
All year long she touched me
And I knew her face to face
I find her in the Shadows
Where I thank her with my heart
For keeping me so close to her
When I believed I stood apart
And the Light comes through her body
And the Night falls through her grace
All year long she touches me
I know her face to face.
I wrote the words in the past and the present tense to remind myself that I do know her as the benevolent Mountain Mother, although it is getting so much harder for me to reach her beneficent side. I need relief from personal suffering and human induced noise to hear Her voice. It was late in the afternoon when I hung the words up on the wall next to Guadalupe’s shrine. When I walked over to “her “ window as I call my plant window because it looks out over the eastern mountains, I was stunned because those glorious mounds seemed to light up of their own accord – in all these years I had never gazed at deep golden light so intense that the mountains seemed to have been lit with it from within. I gasped. The sight affected me on such a visceral level that I just stood there with my mouth open…miracles still happen here.
Later I understood: this Lady of the Shadows is the sorrowful side of the goddess. Because rage and sorrow are conjoined as one, together they encompass the dark aspect of the Mountain Mother (Demeter’s rage and sorrow express this aspect well). Although her joyous side has been suppressed in me for many years I was comforted.
I also think that this narrative is about something greater than my own story. I believe the Spirit of Nature has been separated from her Soul. Her body is in mourning, her body is burning. We have stripped our Mountain Mother of sentience – of deep knowing, deep feeling, and natural wisdom. At present Her only function is to serve the devouring maw of patriarchal culture as a commodity, or worse, as a sacrificial mother. Is it any wonder that grief pours out of me? What happens to the Earth is happening to me.
I will always love this land but I have reached the conclusion that I must find another place to live. At 70 I plan to visit the mountainous region of Abiquiu, New Mexico where I hope to meet the Wild Goddess in her desert form. There are rivers there that flow down from the mountains… A desert is by natural inclination open space but it is also a place where the earth meets the sky, a place perhaps where a wounded spirit, soul, and body can heal? Deserts, I recall, are blissfully silent most of the time. ‘The peace of the wild things’ still exists in cactus flowers, roadrunners and ravens, lizards, pinion pine, mesquite and rabbit bush. Perhaps a mountainous desert made from crushed stone, the first life form on earth, is a place to start over?