folklorelei: (the siren)

Green Men are found in many cultures. They are commonly a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, the spring greening that inevitably follows the dying of winter. I’m fascinated with them. I have two of them, one in the back yard garden near the peach tree:

IF

The lovely lady to the left of him is the Roman goddess Flora, and the lady on the right is simply named Ivy. The man himself is cast iron and ages gracefully, rusting in interesting patterns.

I also have a Green Man inside:

greenmancloseup-sm-1

He’s smaller, also made of metal, but I doubt he’s copper as the green of him suggests. I believe the “aging” on this one is artificial—but I still think he’s rather cool. I’d have more Green Men if I had the space and money (so it’s probably a good thing I don’t). I like the ones with serious and slightly sinister expressions, and I like them to be made of serious natural materials like metal, not these comical cast resin ones that you see here and there and everywhere (though I admit, Flora and Ivy are cast resin). Why am I so fascinated with these Green Man images?

I’m a city girl, born and raised. If I want to get in touch with Serious Nature, I have to drive quite a ways out of town, and when I was a kid we never left town, unless it was to drive to Pomona for the county fair or to Disneyland in Anaheim. There wasn’t enough money for anything else, nor any time and inclination with my parents working hard. It just wasn’t in the program. As a consequence, I was 18 before I ever went on a real vacation, and as for nature spots? Mom didn’t see much sense in going places where you had to sleep on the ground and cook over campfires. She’d had enough of that “nonsense” in her roughing-it country girl days and found no romance in the experience. Why would any sensible human being want to give up modern conveniences?

So I grew up having to take nature where I found it. Fortunately, back in the olden days of Los Angeles, there still existed patches of it here and there. An immense vacant lot existed on my block on Fourth Avenue in Venice, for one. (It is now a public storage facility.) For another, my father planted a magical garden every year, a place of communion and nourishment. (I’ll discuss that another time, in The Green Man, Part II.) Occasionally, I got to visit my older brother in the Santa Monica mountains, where my nieces and nephews (all mostly older than me) would lead me on fantastical trips over the hill and through the woods following streams…until we popped out of the rough onto the manicured lawns of the Bel Air Country Club golf course. Then we’d hightail it back into the woods. These things were extremely important to me, as were long walks on the beach, about five blocks west of where we lived.

I loved the beach best when it was cold and rainy, partly because the things that drifted up on shore—the glass, the driftwood, the truly odd and puzzling things, were more interesting and less picked over by other beach walkers. Mostly, though, it was because I could walk there on cold days without much interference from other people, thinking my thoughts, communing with the vast rolling heart of the sea, feeling the chill pierce me to the bones. That chill always felt purifying rather than cold. I could not return from those walks with any black spots in my spirit. The wind off the sea blew them all away and gave me bliss in return.

That garden and that vacant lot saved my sanity during childhood; those walks along the sea saved my adolescence. Nature, my small neighborhood version of it, never failed to renew me. That, I think, is part of why I am so fascinated with the symbolic representation of nature: I want to recapture, to remind myself, of that need for renewal, that need to physically get out and get in touch with something green and greater than the mere mortal.

In my twenties I went on long hikes in the Angeles Crest. It’s a great, sprawling wilderness within easy driving distance of Los Angeles. Some of it, like Dart Canyon, is at a low enough elevation that on smoggy L.A. days the bad air penetrates them. You have to hike higher up if you want to avoid the city pollution. But on lovely, clear days Dart Canyon is a enchanted place, with maple and sycamore trees, waterfalls, the ruins of cabins and of a lodge destroyed in a great destructive flood in the 1930s. Higher up, there’s pine forest, ski summits, abandoned mines, and scrambling over big boulders to cross streams.

Those hikes were literally peak experiences for me: cleansing, renewing, exhilarating.

My favorite parts of any vacation, whether in this country or another, have been those times when I get into the countryside, touch the green, listen to the birds, feel the wind sweep through my spirit and blow away the black clouds. Nature is my touchstone.

These days—and in the long years of caregiving—that touchstone is mostly limited to the back yard. There wasn’t much time for anything else when Mom was alive; these days I still seem to be decompressing from that experience, trying to recoup my energy and my creativity. I’m far enough away from the beach that I’d have to drive, find parking, and my legs…no.

But the funny thing is, it doesn’t really take Grand Nature for me to get that sense of renewal. The Green Man is alive, curling in every leaf and bud; his skin is easy beneath my palm in the smooth trunk of my peach tree; he dances in the swaying branches of the white willow that volunteered to grow in my yard. All I have to do is sit for a few minutes, enclosed by walls and trees and wildish overgrown patches, listening to the birds, smelling peach blossoms, feeling the earth and grass under my bare feet…and the magic still happens. I am there. He is there. I am lifted up, I am renewed. Maybe the Green Man is watching over me, I don’t know. All I know is that I am grateful.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

entrance west kennet-sm

Entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow by Adrian Pink
(I’m afraid I have to rely on the photos of others as I’ve yet to scan my own.)

On a cold day in late September with occasional showers of rain, many years ago now, I was pretty much alone on the A4 highway driving from Marlborough towards Devizes in Wiltshire, England. I was on a solo pilgrimage across the West Country, a few days out from London, looking for a group of stones I’d read about. I got distracted by the looming site of Silbury Hill on the right hand side of the road and I passed the small sign marking West Kennet Long Barrow. I had to double back. A little red brick farmhouse sat beside the road, and next to it was a turnout large enough for maybe four cars. A metal gate led to a footpath curving around the farmhouse and into the empty fields, disappearing over a low hill. As I entered the gate a white goat in the farmyard eyed me with wary curiosity. The only other creature in sight was a man on a green tractor far, far across the golden fields harvesting the grain. I wouldn’t learn until later, much to my chagrin at missing them, that two weeks before there had been crop circles in that grain field.

Once the footpath entered the fields, it was fenced on both sides to keep the tourists from getting into the farmers’ way. It seemed to go on for miles, most of it a steady incline, but the guide book reassured me it only traversed a half mile. I couldn’t see anything remotely resembling a Neolithic barrow, just more hill and more. I began to wonder how such an invisible thing could possibly be as impressive as I’d been led to believe. Then I noticed a section of uncultivated field pop over the horizon, autumnal wild grass and field flowers that, I guessed, the farmer had missed. But only one long snake of field was overgrown, and as I drew nearer I saw a little track of fencing around it. As if the sight of the fence conjured them, the stones appeared, popping over the top of the hill.

I’d expected something grander, I thought, with starker, more clearly delineated stones. Certainly the pictures I’d seen of the barrow had been dramatic. They seemed dinky as I climbed towards them—but I was still a victim of perspective. I climbed and the barrow grew longer, larger. When I finally arrived, the gray-brown guarding stones of the entrance seemed massive.

I didn’t go inside at first, electing instead to climb on top of the barrow, and stretch things out a bit. I spent a long time up there while the chill soaked through my exertion and turned my cheeks slowly numb. A little path ran along the top where God knows how many tourists had trod before, marking out the one hundred meter length of barrow with their soles, wearing away the grass until the white chalk of Wiltshire showed through the top soil. About mid-point the barrow dipped as if it had sunk or collapsed, then rose up again before an undramatic end merging with the hillside. Little white flowers grew in tufts here and there on the barrow and beside it. I started back towards the entrance.

I thought of the ancient people who had been buried here, and was glad I had time to be alone with my thoughts and with the place. I entered the tomb. The light dimmed inside, fed only from the entrance. One long rock chamber went back about twenty feet before ending in a wall. Four alcoves fed off the main chamber, and on a stony shelf in the last of these alcoves, someone had laid some of the wildflowers from the top of the barrow. I thought I understood this act of veneration, for I felt it too—reverence and regret for the bones that had slept here for countless generations, and now sat on the shelf of a museum in Devizes.

I felt something else, too—or thought I did: the presence of the ancestors in this place, something deep, fundamental, and as quiet as the earth beneath my feet. The stones fairly vibrated with presence. I touched them to reassure myself it was only imagination that vibrated in that place. Cold, silent, solid stone, but also something that defied logic, something tiny and barely perceptible, not even strong enough to qualify as vibration. Maybe just the stones breathing, maybe just the earth spinning on its axis. Or maybe, I thought with a stubborn realization, it was the blood in my veins singing to my own ancestors in recognition. I laughed at myself, but the feeling persisted, undeniable, and it filled me with joy.

“Endorphins,” said the logical side of my brain, my explaining away standby any time I have a peak experience. But I always laugh at it, defy it, reject it.

I went back outside and took a deep breath. The chill sank in all the way to my toes, but I hardly noticed. I was really sailing high, spinning out on a line of exhilaration grounded in the earth, but stretched out at its limit. I hoped in that one perfect moment that the line would break so I could go sailing up through the black rain clouds and never, ever come down.

But I climbed back down the path, as one does. On the way down I encountered a couple speaking German to one another, an older man dressed for the excursion, and a much younger girl in stylish clothes and impractical pumps. Maybe a father forcing a recalcitrant child to the summit? She looked sullen and miserable, giving me a pleading look as I passed. What could I possibly tell her, even if there was no language barrier? I’m not sure I even smiled at her as our eyes met. I was trying too hard not to lose the moment, not to be engulfed by the world and the present tense once again.

It didn’t work. It never does. I got back on the A4, on my way to Salisbury.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales

Tags