In the deeply angled sunlight of an Autumn afternoon, two farmers wearing overalls and baseball caps hang by their necks from an old oak tree at the crossroads where we turn to reach the campground. They’re dummies of course, it’s close to Halloween; I try to be amused, pondering this peculiarly American holiday, a time when Shadow is allowed out to play. “It’s healthy”, I think, “an opportunity to laugh in the face of what’s loathsome.” It’s a skill, I conclude, I lack.
Pumpkin photo ©Samantha Meilman
That night, far from city lights, we get lost under the stars. Gazing up in wonderment from a clearing in the forest, the multitudes of visible suns so overwhelms, we lose our bearings. My husband, Jason, picks out Cassiopeia. I search, but in this whirling, sweeping spectacular, other constellations are hidden to me.
There is a difference between Dark and Shadow. The Dark is wholesome and deep, like rich soil. It’s the place where life comes from, the Mother of all things. Once life has ripened, rotted and broken down, it’s the place to which it returns. It is the empty center of the chakana, the womb-tomb of existence and the birthplace of Soul. But Shadow is an illusory realm, a projection of mind when we feel selfish, or scared, or small. It’s the flashlight on the figure outside the tent, you think it’s a bear, but it’s actually your husband.
That weekend I came in awe and expectation of the Dark. I would sojourn in the Autumn wood, hear the trees talk, and have intimate communion with Nature. But now I’ve arrived there is background noise. I have a medical scan coming up, after a long history of illness. What will the results be? What will my life become? I am afraid, jumping at shadows.
In the tent the katydids are so loud, my senses so keyed up, I can’t sleep. One passionate katydid saws out her song in a nearby tree. Even after the chorus has died down, this soloist sings on, at impossible decibels. I lay awake patiently – a golden day awaits! There’s brunch to eat, a hike to take and we must set up our shelter, because that night, there will be rain.
That sunny, shimmering afternoon, we walk in the woods along a stream, in silence sometimes, paces between us. Our lungs, our thoughts and ideas expand, inhaling the forest’s vital breath. For moments we live in the space between heartbeats, in that wispy suspension of Fall time. The stream shares the mystery of her ceaseless, flowing meander – how she bends and flexes, how she slows, reflects the light, how she keeps on. While I offer a sprinkling of tobacco, Jason rests on a bench, listening to the wind. As we walk on, Jason begins to sing, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…”
That night the rain comes. We have rigged a shelter under a tarp and Jason has built a muscular fire. We are warm there and play cards by lantern light as the rain begins to fall. Jason speaks. “I adore you. You are my friend, my love, my light.” The words lift, dancing in mid-air with sparks from the fire. I say nothing, but cannot resist them. Only the next day do I realize the depth to which my love’s Spirit has been received. Like a dove in a Victorian valentine, bedecked with ribbons, cherubs, birds and flowers, Love alights in my heart. Two days later the words are still moving in me, lighting up my cells, ricocheting gently through me, like a pinball machine where the ball never drops. It just lights and lights and rings and rings.
The rain is heavier now, and a gale blows. An old Appalachian song, a murder ballad, comes to my mind. It’s one of those creepy aires these Appalachian Mountains inspired centuries ago. I hum the refrain as the rain beats harder, “ohhh the wind and rain.”
It’s the story of an elder sister who drowns her younger sister, for she is jealous of the gold ring her younger sister has received from a young man. The drowned maiden floats down the river, appearing like a golden swan. There she is discovered by a miller’s son, who dredges her body from the miller’s pond. As she lays drying on the bank, a fiddler comes along who makes a fiddle from the young woman’s breast bone. He strings a bow from her flaxen hair, and fashions pegs from her finger bones. When the fiddle plays it “could melt a heart of stone”, but alas, the only tune it can play is “ohhh the dreadful wind and rain”.
Inside the tent, the rain is thunderously loud. I am lost in the cacophony. Blowing, sweeping gales of wind precede heavy sheets of rain. Flurries of heavy drops rat-a-tat-tat on our tent as they fall from leaves above and water streams off the tarp, hitting our car below. It’s all a confusion in my head, as if the rain is pounding right on it. I begin to sob, feeling I will lose my mind, searching for patterns in the shadows my mind cannot grasp.
Great mystery, I do not know what the future holds. Help me to walk courageously forward, through the Dark of the unknown, and to remember, I am never alone. Help me to calm my fears and to walk with steady feet, like Hatun Llama, the great animal ally of the center and guardian of Soul. Let me live with faith in your rainbow realm, empowered and at peace. Bless me that I may I continue to move forward in the gift of this precious life; I am so grateful for it!. May I “be what I’m supposed to be, and do what I’m supposed to do” like Uncle Henry says. May I fulfill my highest purpose in service to all Life! A-ho, Mitákuye Oyás’in.
When I awake the next morning, the rain has stopped. I call out to Jason who invites me over to a warm fire. He’s got coffee too! I crawl out of the tent, my clothes layered on top of all the clothes I’ve slept in, my hat, which I’ve also slept in, undoubtedly askew. There’s signs of blue sky! The empty campground is blanketed in even more leaves, with colors mottled and dulled following the rain. It’s much colder too. But we are happy there in the solitude of the wood, among the spirits of oak, pine, holly and spruce. We eat breakfast, pack up and start out on a final walk before heading home.
As we walk along the stream again, admiring her stillness and the steadfastness of her flow. Jason begins the round once more, “….Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”
About the Author
Rebecca “Firehorse” Snyder was an acupuncturist and healing artist with over 20 years experience, skilled in bodywork, mindfulness practice, and movement. Holding numerous certifications, she was most grateful for her five year apprenticeship in Tai Chi Chuan/ Qi Gong with Master Tai Peter Hom of New Orleans. Rebecca held a BA in Asian Religions and Art History from New York University.
A long time spiritual seeker, Rebecca studied and grew her spiritual path through the guiding light of many wonderful teachers and the study of numerous spiritual traditions, including a study abroad in Nepal with Tibetan Buddhism at age 20. Dance, music and ceremony held important places in her personal healing journey and continue to be treasured vehicles to express a passionate reverence for life by all those who were touched by the incredible fire that she was. Rebecca finally found her spiritual home in the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition of Cross-Cultural Shamanism, under the tutelage of don Oscar Miro-Quesada. She passed away peacefully in her home on May 4th, 2018, surrounded by family and friends.
We are so grateful to have her continued wisdom and presence here through her beautiful writings.