Snow cleanses the paths,
a red robin hops from branch
Fire in the ice melts away
the lie of the past.
Now is queen of hearts.
A pale sapling sprouts
from the ground.
Fiery winds of the exalted One
sweep the streets of the mind.
Sudden rain purifies
the byways of the heart;
mists wraps up the body of the earth.
Water of life springs
from inner rock forged by fire,
as the exalted One spreads
her magic on earth.
Long ago, in a faraway land lived an ancient tribe.
The crones and elders sat in council together and the children gathered to listen to their spellbinding stories.
Story time was a ceremony of the utmost importance and happened after each member of the tribe had attended to their duties towards the community, whether it was gathering roots and berries, planting seed and harvesting the crops according to season, or milking the cows.
Everybody was there. People would gather in circle, and the children and the youngsters would sit in two inner circles, with the shaman placed at the very centre.
When the time was ripe, the tribe would sit under a sacred tree.
It was so huge and sturdy, with an upright trunk and twisted roots that surfaced on the ground, only to push deeper into the earth; its branches spread out in all directions so high in the sky that on cloudy days it seemed they were scratching the clouds themselves.
Nobody knew how the sacred tree had grown in those flat lands. They said it was a gift from the gods. They said it had sprung up above the land overnight.
It was a unique tree, the only one of its species. In stormy nights, it glared like a huge eye and licked the dark sky like a huge tongue of fire.
Jemai's head was full of the stories about the sacred tree.
Soon, he would come of age. This was to be the last time he listened to the shaman's stories before going out alone in the wilderness.
On this special special evening, as the sun lowered on the horizon, he sat in his circle and waited for the ceremony to begin.
The shaman held his gaze, as he danced and called the spirits of the ancestors to preside over their gathering.
"Our sacred tree-- he said -- is a bridge between Father Sky and Mother Earth. Its roots push beyond the sky and entrails of Mother Earth. They reach deep down into the Great Unknown, where our ancestors dwell."
The shaman reported descriptions of a realm of fire and ice, which he had visited on his journeys. There the Great Snake coiled around the roots of the sacred tree and the Red Fox hid in its hollows.
"The ancestors say -- the shaman continued staring at Jemai -- that the tree holds a secret, a fiery spear: whoever finds it will bring prosperity to the tribe. Who will go in search of the fiery spear?"
"I will" -- said Jemai in a breath.
At that, adult men looked at one another; yet, for all their perplexities, they did not want to leave their wives and children. Had the shaman not said that the way was fraught with dangers and there was no guarantee of safe return? The ones who had tried before had either gone mad, or been dispersed, or both, when they had been spared by the jaws of the Great Snake.
Jemai left behind no one, for his father had died in the hunt and his mother had died in childbirth. Thus, it was set.
That night, they tied Jemai to the trunk of the sacred tree, covered his eyes with a thick plait of leaves and went back to the village.
Jemai waited and waited.
He listened to the voice of the night. Crickets and owls brought him her messages: "Ask the creatures of the night to free you. Go home, Jemai, be safe and leave in peace."
But Jemai's will was set. He was born for this quest.
Little by little, with his eyes shut, he could feel himself tumbling down a huge hole.
Down he fell.
He could not make out how far or how long. He just knew he was descending down below.
He landed in a dark, narrow hall, where eyes like fiery embers were watching him in silence.
In the free fall, he had lost his bindings and the plait of leaves.
The only sound he could make out was the hissing of the Great Snake.
"You've come for the spear, have you not," he said.
The malevolent ember eyes were still watching him. Jemai looked away, for he knew those eyes had the power to drive everyone crazy.
The Red Fox came forward then, still staring at him with piercing rage and said:
"Who are you? Why should we give the fiery spear to you? Has your tribe run out of grown men? Or are they afraid?"
"I have nothing to lose," Jemai said.
"Ah, very brave of you"-- said the Great Snake, " we shall give you the fiery spear on one condition. Fulfil it, and you will have it. Fail, and you will die the most awful death."
"What is your condition? I am not scared."
"You will spend one whole year in our kingdom, never uttering a single word, no matter your circumstances. If you let the faintest sound out, you are done for.
You will never see the light of the day or the starry night again.
Your tribe will forget you ever trod upon the earth. Do you accept?"
"I accept," said Jemai.
Time went slowly, especially because Jemai didn't have a way of measuring it: there was no sun, moon or stars in the Great Unknown.
He could only observe in silence the pale hosts of sighing ancestors.
He would bite his lips till bleeding, in order to prevent himself from speaking and asking them questions.
When his time in the Great Unknown was almost over, his parents came forward, reaching out to him, asking questions, and looking sad and spent when he did not answer.
Jemai saw his mother for the first time and imagined she must have been beautiful when alive.
His father's torso was still marred by the wound inflicted by the boar he had been hunting.
Other spirits came along coaxing him into speech, in vain. Jemai closed his eyes, bit his lips and put his hands on his ears. Then he collapsed into a dumb, heavy slumber.
When the tribesmen found him, they could not trust their own eyes.
Jemai was lying down beneath the canopy of the sacred tree, covering the long fiery spear with his body. He had grown tall and brawny.
The point of the spear glinted where the sun hit it.
They tried to recover the spear first, but Jemai was so bulky and heavy that it was outright impossible, so they woke him up.
It took a while for Jemai to come back from the depths of the Great Unknown.
When he sat up, and opened his eyes, he stared blankly at the sun: he was blind.
The women gave him water and food, which he devoured.
He stood up. At first he was out of balance. Yet, he refused support from the men.
He uttered just a few words, for he had learnt the value of silence.
Soon he stood upright and walked away.
Everybody respected him, for he had been to the Great Unknown and back. He had gained the fiery spear and had grown into an implacable warrior, who was able to defend his tribe from all danger, and guide them in times of need.
Jemai was the only mortal man who could wield the fiery spear.
The fame of Jemai, the Blind Warrior, reached the corners of the world, but nobody ever knew the secrets of his heart.
Photo by Felix Mittermeier from Pexels
I'd come to this obscure corner of
the center of a rich forest
there are no boundaries
to this forest land
any tree lover will
know when they've arrived there.
Big skies were behind me
the highway ran beneath walls of green
the road a shaved
strip through a carpet of forest.
Grand firs and lacy white pines, and
red cedar: their sweeping limbs called me
reaching outward like gothic angels'
The hemlocks sneaked in, a
dark, haunting element.
As a kid amidst this forest,
bringing stories of the wild woods back
I was quick and eager
to explain how
hemlock and sword fen
survived in the low-elevation
Plopped between arid landscapes
this cloaked country
above the river canyon.
Dark, feathery foliage dangled over a hazy
blue gap below.
Looking west, there was
and piles of snow still covered the trail.
But the storms regathered to create another wet
Beside a crystalline creek,
I was sitting in emerging sunshine,
gazing at lower slopes.
Soon our trail entered the woods--
a new grove of trees below,
in the cedars.
Over a cold spring-fed creek,
the cedars were king.
In these woods,
western white pines once
dominated an endless grove of
tall straight trees.
I was giddy. The river glowed golden
from yellow boulders.
Around the first bend, a cow elk stood on
shore, head down eating streamside grasses.
I wandered upstream,
Up and up along a spine
ridge with views of the river below,
lost in reverie when
sunlight shone ahead of me
and nearby fir trees were
forming a clear-cut:
wild nature was behind,
left below in its canyon.
The sun was setting over the rim
of the canyon
behind silouhettes of hemlock
hanging like a veil over the forgotten
forests of the interior.
Caviardage poem created from Tyler Williams' article "Clearwater Country", in American Forests, Fall 2018, pp. 34-39.
Picure by courtesy of Jaymantri via pexels.com
It can be lonely
into the deep forest
yet I love
the shadows playing with
the light in the submerged
world of trees
where you can be silent
or cry and nobody will ever
find out, except for them.
I love letting loose my hair
in the wind and feel
the ancient wildness roar
My skin could ripple like a wave
under your devoted explorer's
our hearts could love
with no strings and ties
our bodies could intertwine
Beyond clinging, there is
freedom to be for us.
under the deep green shade
where we can lie down.
Listening to the deep voice
of the forest and its denizens
we can share our wordless secrets
and you can make plaits
of my hair.
I can caress your eyes
we can touch each other with
a naked gaze and hand
the hunger of the eager
when they recognise
one another at length:
like outlaws living on
the border, beyond this
age of conventions.
Wild currents lull me into the Great Awakening,
light floods my ephemeral being
turning it into a transparent lake.
Translucent Silence moulds the soul into a fragrant rose.
Tongues of fire light the way into Victory and Surrender.
From timelessness, I behold the Earth,
the sacred body of the World's Soul.
A blade of grass shines into Infinity
and -- wonder of wonders -- in the fields
of the heart, what is small expands.