Almost a fortnight ago, I took her at her word. Hufflespawn was with his father and the night was clear, if a bit cool. I grab my druid bug-out bag and head down the back steps into the orchard. With every step her presence grows heavier, and her wishes swirl thickly in my mind.
Pick a sprig of mugwort.
No hands in pockets. You need to feel the night on your skin.
Cover your head.
No light until you cross the hedge.
I scramble my way up the hill to the gap in the stone wall which marks the beginning of the trail. I pause for a moment, feeling fear scamper up-and-down my vertebrae as acorns crash to the ground. Though I had walked these woods many times during the day, I have never ventured into them at night. Reciting the Druid Prayer for Peace, a penlight in my hand, I make my way down to the brook.
My footsteps are too loud. Stealth was one of the many gifts that I set aside in order to make others more comfortable. The relearning is slow and far from perfect.
I miss the first switchback. I nearly end up in a blueberry farmer’s barn. The LED casts a grayish light and my mind wants to make every stump into a crouching figure. The crown of a newly fallen tree blocks the path and requires quite a bit of ducking and wiggling to navigate. I scoot over the first two log bridges easily enough.
I could try to balance on the slick rounded log that remained. I could continue on the path up to the wider, well-maintained bridge. I could use a tool to steady myself.
I’m a thinker. I don’t have a lot of physical guts, especially when it comes to stunts involving heights and falls and being soaked to the waist in mid-October on a moonless night.
“If you want me, Lady, you’re getting a tool-using human, not an unthinking berserker.”
I cast around until I find a fallen white pine limb.
The branch sinks a good foot into the mud each time it steadies my way across the “bridge.” I thanked my makeshift staff and lay it at the roots of Gog and Nagog as I greet them and make my way into the Grove.
At the triple crossroads I stop and let my light blink out. Lighting the small beeswax tea light from my ritual kit is a struggle in the cool breeze. Dogs howl in the dark beyond the ridges of the valley, and night birds warn each other of my presence. After long moments and not a few curses as wax drips on my hands, the flame catches. And holds.
I call to the spirits of the land. I call to the guardians of the Order. And I call to the Lady who had guided me here. I take stock of my crane bag, fat and distended as an infected gallbladder after 5 years of serving an Ovate who might well be part magpie. What I could no longer use I portioned out as a sacrifice.
Good. Take up your staff.
Surprised, I make my way back to the twin giants and pick up the white pine limb that helped cross the bridge. My hands are already fragrant and sticky with sap. I return to my circle, and thank the Lady for her gift.
“But before we go any further,” I say, “there are some things I want to make clear. I will not do anything that takes me from this land, my home. And I will not do anything that takes me from my son, or harms him or my relationship with him.”
Apparently, that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She said nothing for the remainder of the ritual, nor did I feel her at the edges of my senses any longer.
However, I did feel the warmth of the forest surround me, and an ease in its presence that I had not experienced before. With her silence, it was almost as if a crowd had gathered, watching to see what would happen. I took my knife and trimmed up the staff in order to get it home, thinking hard on what had just happened and easing into the nighttime forest rhythms.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sorely disappointed. I had been hoping to finally find out who this Lady was, to finally have some answers to my questions about her and what she wanted from me. It wasn’t the ritual experience I was looking for, but it was certainly the one I needed.
The fact is, you stick me in the middle of the woods, and I will start making things. It’s what I am. I’m not a warrior, though I once tried very hard to be. I’m not an activist, and I’d rather be in my garden then tilting at windmills on the Internet. I am a decent crafter, a sporadic writer, and a determined mother. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then you’d best find someone else.
Still, as I crested the ridge on the way home, I heard
Turn out your light.
And so I did.