She stands there, listening, with eyes closed and eyebrows slightly furrowed. Her worn sweater hood forms a druid-like triangle around her face, and a few, thick dread locks peak out from behind her neck like curious worms.
Someone gives thanks:
“To the sky
To the wind
To the animals
To the earth
A patch of black fabric attached by four safety pins hangs on the back of her worn jumper. It’s hosting a hand-painted, political cartoon above a sentence too small to read from any distance. A silver keychain dangles almost erotically from her low-hanging belt loop, starting at one hip and dipping down before arching back up to to her navel, then down and up again to her other pocket, where a key and a charm dangle. The charm is an imprint of a spider web. She is all city and politics.
Her khaki shorts hang well below her knees, and her legs are covered in black tights with a token rip, revealing an inch of her unshaven shin. Her vegan leather boots hang lazy around her lower calves.
Her face is powerful and angular. She looks to be about 32…or is she 42? Is she actually a he? She’s almost meticulously androgynous. She opens her eyes. They are round and dark brown. She looks instantly younger…and beautifully masculine.
She’s with me in a circle of people, in a field, in the woods.
We play tag like children. I hear her laugh as she dodges “IT”. It’s a deep, ornery laugh. It’s the laugh of someone strong. It’s the laugh of someone who rose from her weariness.
We descend into the forest as three groups: rabbits, buzzards, and stoats. The stoats stalk the rabbits, and the buzzards stalk both. We play, lie in the grass, wander through the trees, smell the dirt, listen to the birds – bird-call to each other. We talk only about what we see, smell and taste. We don’t talk about tomorrow. We don’t talk about yesterday.
When we emerge from the forest later that day, she’s younger. Her cheeks are ruddy and her hoodie is down, revealing her long dreads pulled up in a stiff pony tail to bare a short, boy’s crop fringe that wraps around her ears and down the nape of her neck. I catch her smile as she pokes at the campfire. She has white, round teeth.
We sit around the campfire after eating, sharing our stories of the day, and she speaks up. She wants to tell an ancient myth; an archaic explanation of the annual return of death and winter:
“It’s a myth about an ancient god with a beautiful daughter who often plays alone in the summer forest….
One beautiful day, the god’s brother, the god of the underworld, sees the daughter and wants her for himself. Deviously planning her kidnapping, he opens up the Earth, and the girl falls in. Later that evening, the mother of the girl anxiously awaits her, but her daughter never returns.
As the days pass, her parents and Earth mourn the loss of the beautiful girl. Everything begins to die, and the days grow very cold. The god searches for his daughter everywhere, before finally hearing a rumor that his brother has taken her to his underworld. He immediately goes to the underworld, to discover his daughter on the throne next to his brother.
He implores his brother to release his daughter. His brother abides with a compromise: for half the year, the daughter will live above, on Earth. For the other half, she will live below, in the underworld.
And that is why we have winter and summer,” she says.
She un-sheepishly admits that in the midst of her story, she began telling another one by accident. We don’t care. We all clap, and she smiles, her teeth bright white by the campfire.
I watch her face relax as she returns to silence, just a bit more than even before.
Nature heals us.
This post was inspired by a woman I met at a nature retreat from Art of Mentoring, a deep nature connection program that incorporates mentoring from various old and ancient traditions. If you’re a nature lover and want to build a 1-day, conscious community of nature lovers (as we did for the 2014 Winter Solstice), you can find more information here.