After her husband Charley headed off for early morning yoga, Ursula Goodwin-Brown sat in the hot tub looking out into the tiny meadow she insisted on keeping natural for the fairies. Not that she could see them herself, but she had a strong sense they were there, confirmed by visiting Scots from the magical Findhorn garden who came through once years ago and told her they always left a piece of their lands wild for the plant spirits. Her kids thought it was cool that she’d never stopped believing in fairies…. her daughters did anyway. Her sons never mentioned it.
She loved it that the thirty square feet or so was always filled with tall grasses in various stages of green and brown. During the summer the pinky purples of wild mallow and foxglove mixed with daisies, cat’s eye, and pearly everlasting to dance among the salmonberry and thimbleberry shoots trying to get a hold. Besides pulling the latter two out (they had plenty of license to grow elsewhere on the hill), her gardening mostly consisted of moving the flowers back uphill from where they’d migrated into the paths.
This autumn morning spider webs stretched from every possible spike of grass in her meadow, each with its maker in the middle. “There must be fifty of them,” she marveled as her eyes kept catching sight of more. “All sizes and turned every which way. Grandmother Spider is weaving her magic again.”
But the marvel was just beginning. As Ursula watched, the sun rose over the top of the forest uphill, bathing her in its misty God-rays like the blessing of a loving Grandfather. She could feel the gifts of light and love bestowed on the world every single day. No wonder the ancients had worshipped that beaming, life-giving orb. No wonder they had bowed and prayed at dawn for it to reappear. No wonder they had played flute, pipes, rattle or drums to welcome and ensure the sun’s rising each morning. “How lazy we are, not to take that care. To not even notice…. Certainly not to thank. We just assume….”
Now the webs sparkled with diamonds encircling the spiders like planets. Dazzled, she tuned into a chit-chit-chittering all around her and caught sight of dozens of finches, still in their golden summer hue, as well as chickadees, warblers and little brown wrens darting about in ecstasy at the edge of the meadow. Their flitting dislodged last night’s raindrops from the Sitka spruce and hemlock branches in delicate golden showers, while the birds themselves became translucent angels for that instant when they swooped sideways to the streaming light. She whooped in joy at the spectacle, her heart pounding.
As her focus shifted back and forth she realized that the huge sword ferns next to the tub and on into the woods were backlit as well. The moiré patterns of layered spider webs against ranks of fern fronds was dizzying, so much so that even as she gloried in the beauty of the scene, she could feel her mind slipping from the present into a trancey state…. The glorious morning…. faded…. like a movie…. back to a painful winter when she had seemed to be failing Grandmother Spider as a weaver of community webs.…
….Watching the few people present at the monthly Networking Potluck earnestly placing their colored sticky dots to prioritize the dutifully brainstormed lists of ideas for moving the community forward, Ursula had been swept with a feeling of desolation. The meager showing seemed to bode ill for the Big Project’s chances of success. Did that mean that she and Pia and Molly would have to work even harder to get things off the ground? Where was everybody? A few years before when particularly nasty political shit was going down in the outside world, people had rallied and there had been a burst of involvement from all quarters. “Think globally and act locally” had taken on new pizzazz. Commitment flared. Even nonpolitical June and Celeste had gotten involved for a while and a cadre of young people had taken leadership roles, galvanizing inspired projects. Ursula thought of that time as their Glory Days. No task had seemed too daunting, whether it was a protest against old growth timber cuts, a day care center start up, or a play about the demise of the salmon that integrated spiritual ceremony with activist passion. Would that it didn’t take a sense of crisis to bring people out of the woodwork.
Ursula sighed. The fledglings – so active and eager at that time – weren’t coming to gatherings much anymore. Neither the rituals nor the stirring-the-pot meetings like this one. Of course, Caliente and others were involved with their farmsteads – truly the important groundwork that boded well for the long term. But what would happen to the organizational side in coming years as Ursula’s generation aged and died off? Did none of the young people have time for being on boards or getting new things going? Was that process just too old hat?
Ursula had slipped outside that night to sit on the steps and watch the quiet street. Everything was taking so very long. She ached for a deeper connection. To have all her own four chicks around her at fire-lit healing sessions like the Kalahari Bushmen that Brad Keeney wrote about…. Tribe…. People dancing their sorrows, their worries, their ills. Elders and shamans touching Spirit on behalf of the whole or of an ailing individual. Did she need such a dance right how? Did they all need it? How could it ever be pulled together? “Always the practical thinker,” she thought ruefully. “My natal Capricorn moon waves its weary administrative wand.”
There was no moon that February night and no stars either, the sky being overcast. But she knew it was the Dark of the Moon – time to plant seeds. Wasn’t that what they were trying to do at this potluck? How could seeds grow with only the labor of the valiant, stalwart few? She wanted all her kids here – all the community’s young. So many were off gallivanting. It was appropriate she knew. “Yea even important,” she chided herself. “They need to have a wider experience so that if they are eventually to return to their roots here they will know what they are choosing and what they are giving up. Plus be able to bring back experience to share.” Odyssey Years. She’d had that certainly. That’s how she and Charley had landed here. She hugged her blue chenille shawl more tightly around her shoulders. How could she reconcile that knowledge with this deep inner longing for being a granny in a hut with other grannies…. Pounding grain together…. Working on clay cooking pots like Malidoma Somé described…. Gossiping…. Counseling…
She had felt herself falling into a trance as that image took hold in her mind’s eye. Was it somewhere else or in her own future? Was it a past life of hers or a collective memory? It didn’t matter. Her belly filled with the emotions of it and soon the very smells…. dry sunbaked soil, cardamom, cumin…. Giggling with her compatriots. Crinkly dark skin. Weathered faces. Skilled hands…. The pursing of worried lips as they talked about the village…. Someone was stepping outside their marriage and might need a little talking to. One of the fledglings was itchy for a new adventure. Maybe he could be sent to the city with the next load of trade goods. Whose back was hurting and what was she stiffly holding back from? The stories went round and round. Some revelations were greeted with shouts of laughter and ribald teasing.
“Your old man can still get it up, eh?”
“Mine can’t. I’ve got the hots for that tallest young, handsome one!”
“Me too. That green wife of his better watch out.”
Other bits made their grizzled heads shake. Who could take a particular teen aside and teach her about things her mother wasn’t bothering with? Were the men ready for the returning warrior’s cleanse? Whose turn was it to lead the vision quest training process? Better call a dance to lighten up that quarrel between adjacent villages.
These old ones were full of vinegar still and honored for the wealth of their experience. Kali Ma-like, they knew when to cut and when to comfort. Kwan Yin-like, they were available to enfold a child, tender advice to the lovelorn, and facilitate the taking on of a needed skill.
“Had it ever gotten stifling?” wondered the Ursula on the steps and the Ursula in the hot tub. “Probably.” Old customs had begun to cramp and not everyone was wise all the time. “Are there people involved?!” She could hear Pia Rosen’s voice in her head with just the right ironical tone.
“But we’re full of new ideas. We’re inventing. We’re re-membering the tribe. Finding the pieces. We are touching into the old ways – the shamanic knowings….”
…. In her mind’s eye she danced around a blazing fire under a starry sky in that tribal time, her body glowing and prickling with healing energy. Hands so hot that the sparks might have been from her or from the fire. She placed them on the temples of a friend who was grieving the loss of a parent and then on the low back and belly of a woman with a challenging pregnancy. She hugged another dancer and together they swayed with the ecstasy of energy flow, belly to belly. Turning, they both encircled the hips of an arthritic visitor. Voices around them toned and hummed, rising and falling with rhythms uncharted and undirected. Drums and rattles added to the rising chi of the group. She whirled and swooped – now a goldfinch, now an eagle. Was that an ordinary dog or was it Coyote behind the man sitting cross-legged with a child in his lap? Antlered Elk rose tall and ghostly, shadowing the circle. Was a fellow dancer turning into a jaguar? Certainly snaky energy was rising in that one across the way….
“We achieve something akin to this at times in our campfires,” Ursula had thought, her butt beginning to ache on the community center steps. “Our evenings together on rainy winter nights. Drums, voices, wisps of magic. But always there is a holding back. A lack of experience. A lack of custom. A lack of trust, not of each other so much as fear of the seeds inside us. Fear. It always comes down to that doesn’t it?”
Fear of the unknown. Fear of the magic itself. Fear of being thought unscientific and therefore crazy. Fear of shamanic flight. Fear of Power. She’d shivered, feeling her own trepidation gain ascendance, as open as she was. The longing for tribal connection was still there but it had become tempered by her rational self. “It’s too difficult. It’s taking too long. What’s the use? I might as well settle into a lonely granny-hood, family secrets intact.” No outsiders to probe…. no way to heal…. no connection to Grace…. which to her was a link to Source but also a connection to the whole. The Tribe.
There was that word again. She was pretty sure that it actually did “take a village.” That felt right deep in her gut. This was not the era of the hermit, though a few people off in their proverbial or literal caves could send sparking and nurturing energy to the whole. She thought of June with her quiet counseling practice and Nettle Nancy who hardly ever stirred from her wooded cabin on a back creek but who envisioned the world’s healing on a daily basis in her meditations.
However, the bulk of the energy this time around was within group. Joining together, communing. Developing the intimacy and the trust to connect telepathically. Did it have to be such a long slow process? Was it possible for a lightning bolt? A magical moment when a group of them had clarity and were connected…. It seemed like they’d almost gotten there once or twice….
Out of her despair that night, a germ of inspiration for a visioning ritual had flickered in her brain. After several deep yogic shrugs, she’d gone back inside the community center to help put away chairs and tables. The meeting was done. She only half cared about the outcome. The ideas on the brainstorm sheets posted around the room were the same ones voiced in other such forums. Déjà vu all over again. “What will it take to propel us to the next level? To put juice and Spirit into these lists. To take it all out of the theoretical into the real?” They’d accomplished a lot over the years. They could pat themselves on the back. Yet Ursula knew there was something potent missing. Several somethings, no doubt.
Tribe. She could almost taste it. Almost describe it. When could she have it in this life?
While Ursula had been journeying back through a few stages of her community’s development, the late September morning sun had risen higher and the spider webs, though still visible, no longer glowed. The grasses were now a soft gold. “It’s amazing how many different kinds there are. I’ll take some down to the shrine at the store. It would be fitting to honor Demeter, Greek aspect of the Mother – Goddess of the Grains, Bringer of Seasons – whose daughter Persephone heads down in autumn to her underworld lover. Her adventures away are not unlike those of my own four offspring. I must count myself lucky that two have chosen to live here now, thank the Goddess, and one had a baby last spring, making me a real granny (tra la!). But two are far afield and I miss them even though that seems greedy of me. Can I help it that I’m insatiable?”
Grass stems in hand, her petite frame naked and dripping, she stood on the path next to the tub. Turning to each of the Directions, she called aloud, “Thank you, airy East, for the rising sun and the new beginnings that grew out of the revelations of that night of despair at the Mahonia Community Center. Thank you for this new day as well. Help us to create the songs that heal and bring out the best in each of us. May you continue to send us new energy for our endeavors.
“Thank you, fiery South, for the passionate hearts that beat in concord and in conflict, and for the growth that abounds within both states.
“Thank you, watery West, for the deep knowings, memories and dreams that will inform this day, as well as for the Pacific that graces this place. May we listen and be in the flow.
“Thank you, earthy North, for the stories and the power of the Mountain and the rocks and the trees and the creatures, plants and ancestors of this place. May we honor you always and all ways.
“Thanks be to the Above.” She raised her arms high, “and to the Below.” She knelt and touched the earth. “Gaia. And to all our relations. All is well. I am ready for this day, Grandmother Spider, come what may.”