Aislinn’s Ride

Gran’mama said, “Always live high on the mountain, and always wear something yellow, even if no one else can see it.” She said she learned that from a friend from the stars, and it had always served her well. Her friend, The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream, didn’t say much, but she was always worth listening to when she spoke in her deep, deep voice like a bass viol.

(This story is going to have a lot of “shes” — I hope it doesn’t get too confusing. There is Aislinn, there is Gran’mama, there may also be Gran’ma Maple (I’m not sure about her part yet), and there is The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream. The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream is the one with the voice like a bass viol, and she came in Gran’mama’s dream so sometimes other people could see her and sometimes they could not. But she wasn’t hard to hear on the seldom occasions that she spoke.)

So Gran’mama lived high on the mountain — nobody lived higher. And Aislinn lived with her in the summer times. In the winter she lived in the valley with her parents and went to school, but she still always wore something yellow, even if it was something hidden. Oddly enough, it did make her feel better, even in the lowlands beneath the mountain where the blue of the sky seemed faded and far away like The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream sometimes seemed.

Gran’ma Maple lived only part-way up, on the west side of the mountain, on a wide, wide ledge right beside the tarn. A tarn is like a very small lake or a very deep pond, and no one knew how deep this tarn was — people said it went down to the roots of the mountain — and deeper — but no one really knew. The Folk had stopped catching fish in it a long time ago — they were too unchancy-looking to eat anyway with their huge blind eyes, and it was noticed that those who caught them were never lucky after.

Gran’ma Maple stood beside the tarn. She had lived there since long before the folk came to the valley or Gran’mama had come up the mountain as a middle-aged widow woman with far-seeing eyes. Gran’ma Maple didn’t talk at all, except in the whispering rustle of her leaves. Gran’ma Maple loved Aislinn and she loved Gran’mama, but she didn’t love everyone, except the littlest ones. She let them climb in her branches, and she called them her “seedlings” and talked to them in whispers until they got too old to be able to hear her about their seventh year.

Aislinn was one of the seldom children who was able to understand Gran’ma Maple’s whispers past her seventh year, who could see and hear The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream, and who was welcome up high on the mountain at Gran’mama’s house. Some of the other children were a bit jealous and made up scary stories about Aislinn and told them to each other in the dark, but everyone suspected it was lucky to be her friend so she got along all right for a while. And in the beginning of summer, when school stopped, Aislinn went up the mountain and didn’t come down again until the first leaves on Gran’ma Maple began to turn. In fact, it was the turning of the leaves and the return of Aislinn that told the other children when to go back to school just as it was her leaving to go up the mountain that told them when to stop.

As a little girl Aislinn didn’t realize that her life was much different from others. She learned reading and writing and science from the school, and she learned manners and hard work from her parents. From Gran’ma Maple she learned to climb high, even in the wind, and to sing with the birds, and foretell the weather. From her own Gran’mama high on the mountain, she learned to know all the herbs and their helping ways, to always wear yellow, and to read the clouds. From The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream she learned — well, it was hard to say exactly what she learned — perhaps it was a way of dreaming while she was awake. But perhaps that was just imagination or magic. She was never quite certain which. But on her seventeenth birthday everything changed.

It was the first of May. This year there would be a full moon that night and Neptune, the planet of dreams, would be rising invisibly beside the moon. Aislinn thought about that. She had dreamed the night before, as she usually did (her name means “dreamer” in the old magical language), and her dreams were filled with shadows and figures of light, of turmoil and calm, and they were full of hidden magic. Although she often couldn’t remember the dreams when she woke, things often happened then she then remembered that it happened first in a dream and she understood how it would turn out. So it was this morning.

She woke up her birthday morning feeling a change coming toward her. She knew it was riding a gray horse and would arrive before noon and that she should pack up and be ready to go. She packed her best yellow petticoat, bright as the sun and almost as bright as her hair, and a few other clothes, and then wondered what else to bring. It seemed like most everything else she had was in her head, her heart, her muscles and bones, but she thought some herbs might be useful so she made a small bundle and put them in with her clothes. She had a small rose quartz stone in the shape of a heart that had belonged to her mother and gran’mama before her. It hung from a fine gold chain, and though she rarely wore it, this seemed like a good day for it so she put it on and tucked it in, hidden beneath her blouse. She ate breakfast with her mother and father and then she waited.

Waiting wasn’t very satisfying — Aislinn wasn’t used to just sitting around. She meditated for a while, but still felt restless. She went into the kitchen and packed a lunch, then considered and added a three slightly wrinkled apples from last fall for the horse. She wrote a note for her parents, who were out planting seeds in the fields, and another for her Gran’mama, though she suspected that her Gran’mama already knew what was happening, probably better than Aislinn herself. She was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering if there was anything else she needed to do, when she heard the neigh of a horse in the distance. Her heart said, “Yes!”

She took her bag of clothes and her basket of lunch and got to the gate just as the horse arrived, shining bright in the sun. Aislinn felt the presence of The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream and heard her say, “The sun is nearly high and the may tree is in bloom — are you ready to ride?”

This is the end of the beginning. Or perhaps my part stops here, and you have to dream the rest for yourself. I don’t know!

Who's a mycelium then?

Mushrooms under Fir

I wonder some things…
For instance… my grandmother,
my granddaughter. Some might say,
if they saw what I’ve seen,
that this child is Gran’ma’s dharma heir,
and neither of them know the word “dharma”.
And some would say that one
is the reincarnation of the other,
if they saw what I’ve seen.

I had an odd little experience a couple of evenings ago. I was on an inner journey to talk to the goddess in her aspect of the crone. (I often refer to the crone as “grandmother” and have great affection for her.) On this night, when I addressed her as Grandmother, my own Gran’ma Susie (mother’s mother) was suddenly there beside the goddess, just to the right of her.

She was smiling a contained little smile with such a twinkle behind it — you could just tell she was trying not to burst out laughing. That expression is so well-remembered, and I’ve seen that same smile on my granddaughter’s face. It was there a lot when Megan was a small merry person full of jokes. Gran’ma liked to deliver her jokes and outrageous puns with a straight face — or nearly straight — and Megan does the same. Anyway, Gran’ma was standing there, atwinkle and beaming, and I was just plain startled to see her.

I used to see or hear her often before Megan was born, but I had, we had reasons to think that perhaps my grandmother had reincarnated as my granddaughter — keeping herself in the family, as it were. A whole range of psychics, channels, mediums, clairvoyants, shamans and what not have told us over the years, first, that Gran’ma would be coming back as my son’s child, then later on that she was then taking the first steps to manifest that, and then after Megan’s birth, over and over that Megan was strongly connected to her. This information was always volunteered, never asked for by one of us.

In her turn, even as a very small child, Megan had that half-teasing smile, along with the strength, courage, wry sense of humor, and lovingness that one would expect if she were indeed Gran’ma come back. But here Gran’ma stood, feet planted firmly on the earth of my inner world, “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” as we say in my family and very much herself.

“You’re surprised to see me, aren’t you?”

I nodded and hesitantly admitted that I thought she had reincarnated.

“Well, I won’t say I haven’t, exactly. But I won’t say that I have, either.”

To say I was puzzled would be understating the matter. I was even more baffled when Megan abruptly appeared to the left of the goddess. She is ten years old now. Gran’ma looked to be in her 50s — about the age she was when I had the years that Megan has now. It was easy to see the resemblance: the eyes, the way the hair curls, their hands, the feel of them both — a fierce and deep compassionate love they both hold for others, leavened by humor and a charm that I suspect comes from just loving people and the world in general.

(I remember that when Gran’ma was dying and I was sitting with her in the hospital, one of the very last things she did was to look up at me and with an obvious effort breathlessly said, “I love you all. I love each of each of you.” She struggled to say more and couldn’t, so I tried to help. “Do you want me to tell everyone that for you?” She immediately relaxed, smiled, and a tiny nod said all I needed to know. Then her eyes shut. After that, she slipped into a coma and was soon gone. And when she was gone, I spent a couple of days calling each of her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grand children and telling every one of them, “Gran’ma Susie said to tell you she loves you.” It wasn’t exactly the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but it was one of the most rewarding. And educational.)

But to come back to the present… here Gran’ma is, and there Megan is. Alike as two peas, but in different pods — or the same pod, strung out over time. Or something. Are they the same person or not? Is there linearity here or not? I just don’t know.

The Crone Goddess steps back and somehow reaches around all three of us, pulling us into a tight hug — so tight that we all melted together for a timeless time. It was indescribable.

Then we separated again and looked at each other for one of those forever moments. And Megan and Gran’ma both faded away. The Crone, whose eyes were both Gran’ma’s and Megan’s eyes, asked. “Did you understand that?”

“With my heart, perhaps, but not with my head!”

She nodded and said, “That’s all that’s needed. But here is a picture for you to play with.” An image blossomed in my mind — tiny mushrooms in a faery ring. For a moment I was puzzled. I’ve been learning about fungi recently and they are truly fascinating. What we see above the ground are not individuals. Under the earth, they connect with each other, sharing their roots and underground structure in one much larger being. The things we see are just the fruit of that being, deeply rooted in their living self. Although the mushrooms we see are separate in appearance, in reality there is just one, and we do not see much of it at all.

That larger underground being does vital things to support the life of trees and other plants. The network of the mycelium, the living body of the fungus underground, is really just beginning to be scientifically studied and faintly understood. Scientists have ideas about how mycelium helps the trees, may even be a communication network between them, how it makes the soil fertile and nourishing for all plants — and how it does some other quite magical-sounding things. And did you know, that there is more biomass (living material) under the surface of the earth than there is on top of it? Much more! I didn’t, and am still stunned by that.

However, to come back to what happened in my lunar cycling meditation, this explains a lot about the relationship between Gran’ma and Megan, and yes, even me, without me being able to quite articulate it. I had been thinking of us as being something like pearls on a string with other beads or gems between us. But…

…from the online Urban Dictionary: chronosynclastic infundibulum ~ n. A point in space where, upon a person entering it, that person’s existence in space-time ceases to be linear, becoming discrete. This means that a person that has entered a chronosynclastic infundibulum exists at multiple points and lines in space-time. For example, such a person could exist at all points in time in one place and also appear at another point for five minutes.

And says: ~n. A place, or a moment, where all the different kinds of truths fit together, and where there are many different ways to be absolutely right about everything.

It has been so many years since I read the book — it seems that perhaps chronosyclastic infundibulum was both of those things and more, just as the ideas of reincarnation and dharma heirs and mycelium are all true of this and all other relationships, but not even the three together tell the whole story.

What if we are all chronosynclastically infundibulated all the time, and only our indecision (or something) keeps us from realizing it? What if all this is related to the ideas on non-local consciousness and natural magic? (This may be too much thinking for a Libra…)

Lineage & Hands

Megan’s Hands On My Altar Stone

Here I am this morning:
reading Mary Oliver,
having fits of ecstasy
at the beauty on the page —

and feeling that
I have wasted my life.
I am 75 and still
cannot write so exquisitely!

It’s all about seeing,
looking past the surface
into the layers of kinship
and deep story.
And yet —

my granddaughter and I
sat in my garden and compared
our hands, the shapes and lines,
hers, young and smooth,
no more than a tracery of
the dominant pattern —
and mine, old and full of living,
a spider’s crazed web
between the main lines —
yet those deepest ones
forming a pattern
quite like Megan’s.

Once, many years ago,
I did that with my grandmother,
and we, too, found that our hands
were uncannily alike.

When Megan was birthing
and I was rushing
to be there to greet her,
I heard a voice say,
“She has your hands.
You women are like
pearls on a string,
and the lineage endures.”

I told Megan this yesterday. She is ten,
and her eyes grew wide as she listened,
as mine had ten years before
when I saw a line stretching
back and back into the mist
of pearls and hand prints —
healer’s hands.

So, perhaps it was
not wasted after all, this life,
but simply a pearl to be found on a string.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Random Thoughts — Beauty

You know, I keep hearing people say that to be beautiful, you have to accept yourself, and that doesn’t matter what other people think. I disagree — maybe that is what you have to do to feel beautiful, but not to be beautiful.

To be beautiful, you have to have the glow that having a generous heart gives you. You have to radiate love. You have to glow with kindness. It’s not something you see or feel, say or pretend — it’s something you are.

And if you are not that, all the acceptance, all the adulation, all the pretty features, fancy feathers, and walking away from people because they don’t admire you enough will never make you beautiful. It’s just that radiant glow of love and kindness…

O! Perhaps that is why so many people aren’t beautiful until they smile — true smiles are about simple giving rather than about receiving or judging.

What people most likely really want is not to be beautiful, but to be loved. “Beautiful” is just a means to an end, and the end is love and admiration, an overcoming of insecurity, a sense of being valued, or at worst, a certain kind of power. Buddhists suggest that, if you feel unloved, to give love to others; if you feel unhappy to try to create happiness for others; whatever you think you lack of emotional satisfaction, provide it for others.

Oddly enough, this actually works, if practiced with some sincerity and patience. There are reasons for that, and I could go on and on about this (and nearly did), but it’s past my bedtime and I’m thinking that it might be interesting for you to think about those reasons. Humans are indeed odd creatures.

Great-aunt Nettie's Spice Cake

The first cake I ever made by myself was to Great-aunt Nettie’s Spice Cake recipe, and it was for Mom’s birthday. This recipe has been in our family so long that no one knows any more who Great-aunt Nettie was, but it has always been one of my favorites.

I wanted to make the cake as a surprise for my mother, but that was impossible. I was only nine and had to ask her permission to use the stove. Happily, she agreed and let herself be talked into leaving the house while I made it. I’d chosen this particular cake, even though it was a little complicated, because it was both my favorite cake and because it was so good that it didn’t need frosting. I didn’t think I was ready to tackle frosting yet. Mom did suggest that I ask the next door neighbor, Mrs. Cliffe, my piano teacher and spiritual adviser, for help if I ran into any problems. Mom also suggested that I double the recipe. I thought I could do that, but I also thought that she expected that I probably would have problems. Then she took my younger sisters over to a neighbor’s house to play with their children while the women chatted and did some creative crocheting.

The first stage of the recipe involved measuring and then boiling water, raisins, spices, sugar, and shortening in a big pot. I’d helped her make the cake before, but it seemed to need a bigger pot than I remembered Mom using so I had to transfer the water into a larger one to get it all in. But I finally got everything measured and in the pot. Then, standing on a stool, I stirred the mixture as it came to the boil and for the required 15 minutes of simmering. Next, while it was cooling, I mixed the flour and the rest of ingredients in a bowl. Again, it seemed to take an awfully big mixing bowl. It also took a long time for the hot mixture to cool. But I was committed now—I couldn’t do anything but keep going. When it was finally cool enough, I stirred in the flour mixture—or started to. It wouldn’t all go into the big pot.

I rootled around in the cupboards and found the largest pot—the one Gran’ma and Mom used for large family gatherings. The full pot was too heavy and awkward for me to lift and pour, so I carefully transferred the warm mixture a cup at a time. Then I slowly added and stirred in all the floury mixture. I had to get a chair to stand on and a long-handled ladle to do it. It’s a fairly thick and stiff batter when all the dry things are added. There may have been a small floury lump or two hiding still among the plump, boiled raisins when I decided that enough stirring was enough.

Cake pans—we had four—that should have been enough for a double recipe. I greased, floured, and filled them—and more than half the cake mixture was left. They didn’t begin to hold all that dough. By now I had realized that, even with all my very careful addition and measuring, I had somehow miscalculated. Numbers have never been what I was best at, so while not surprising, it was a little worrying. I could see that enough pans for all this would never all fit into the oven at once. I put the first four in to began baking. I borrowed two more pans from Mrs. Cliffe. Not enough. Another pan from Mrs. Rheisenover. And another two pans from someone else. I baked them in shifts, watching them anxiously. I knew how to tell with a toothpick when they were done, but not how long they should take.

Eventually they were all done and cooling on racks. There weren’t enough racks either, so I had to improvise by using the racks out of the oven. The cakes looked and smelled just like they ought — spicy and delicious. I arranged them carefully on the big table in the kitchen and put the card I’d made for Mom beside them.

Nine cakes! Far more than enough for our family and for singing Happy Birthday over. I fetched Mom and my sisters home. She appreciatively sniffed the aroma when she came in, but seemed a bit taken aback when she saw all of the cakes on the table.”But you said to double the recipe,” I told her.

“Nooooo,” she replied. “I said the recipe was double. I meant you to make half of it. But they are beautiful cakes!” Fortunately, she was a sensible woman and decided it would be fun to share it with some of the neighbors after we’d finished dinner. Heaven only knows how she explained all those cakes to Dad when he got home.

After dinner, we children were sent around to invite all of the neighbors in for coffee (or milk) and birthday cake, an impromptu party. As people began to gather in the house, someone suggested making ice cream. Various hand-crank ice cream freezers came out. A few of the men went off to the ice house to get blocks of ice and chip them up while women mixed up their favorite flavors. Older children cranked until the ice cream got so stiff that the men had to take over. People had to bring their own bowls and spoons—this hearty cake was fine in fingers with a paper napkin, but ice cream demanded dishes.

We all sang Happy Birthday to my mother, and someone fetched a big candle for her to blow out with her wish in lieu of the usual small candles on a frosted cake. God/dess knows what she was wishing by now! I watched with mixed feelings as the cakes disappeared into happy mouths. None of us in the neighborhood were rich, and birthday parties were usually simple and for children only. This was different. Fortunately, it was July—the 7th of July, just after the communal celebration of the Fourth, so everyone was ready for more celebrating.

The weather was warm and it didn’t matter that there were too many people to fit into the house. Women filled the big kitchen, children ran wild everywhere, the men all gathered out in the front yard and sat on blankets on the grass, like a picnic. After everyone was served, the women hung up their aprons and came out and sat on the blankets too, modestly tucking the skirts of their everyday house dresses around them. No one had dressed up; no one had expected a party. The neighborhood dogs laid in the grass, looking hopeful, and more than one person surreptitiously passed a raisin to their favorite pup. Twilight arrived, and the stars came out. Everything just happened. And all the cake somehow disappeared, down to the last crumb.

I used to wonder about Great-aunt Nettie—I still do. As far as I can remember, she wasn’t my mother’s great-aunt, and as best I know, Nettie wasn’t my grandmother’s great-aunt either. Since Gran’ma was born in 1886, a great-aunt already lost to her generation’s memory takes us back a bit into the mists. Who was she, really? How far back do we need to go to find the woman whose cake (and herself) made such an impression that her name is still attached to it generations later?

I know how recipes go—we tend to follow the instructions the first time, but after that, if we’ve a mind to, we experiment, trying adding a bit of this or substituting that. How many changes had that cake been through before it reached my nine-year-old hands? My hands—they are like my mother’s and grandmother’s hands, all the same shape and with our littlest fingers shorter than most people’s. Even the lines in our palms were very much alike. I remember comparing all three pairs of our hands when Gran’ma was eighty-eight—like and alike again. My grandmother and I even wore nearly identical wedding rings and they were the same size.

Healers’ hands, all of us, each in our own way. And how far back do those hands go? Mixing cakes, touching hurts, soothing children, making and mending, shaping and creating? All of those women stretching back in time, like many-colored beads on a string, some bright, some scratched or chipped, some probably dull. How far back would we have to time travel to find the original Great-aunt Nettie—a woman whose cake was special enough to bear her name through decades, even centuries? Did she have these hands? And how many generations back do variations on that cake go? Would it have been made with stone-ground whole wheat and honey once? Other grains? Other fruits and sweeteners and spices? Different… and yet bearing the imprint of the same hands?

I must look carefully at my granddaughter’s hands the next time I see her. When I was rushing along the road to be present at the magic of her birth, I remember hearing one of my Voices saying, “She has your hands, you know.” I assumed the Voice was talking about healing, but… now… well, I must look. And perhaps we should bake that cake together.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.