There is an image I can’t seem to get out of my mind; I am standing in the snow at the edge of a wood, the trees are as thick as the shadows and the only sound heard, carried on the bitter cold wind swirling around the back of my neck and off and over the tops of the tall, green pines is that of heavy footsteps in the icy snow.

I can see in the distance not too far off a girl, young and pretty, she stands in the open in a blue and white flowered dress. She doesn’t see me, she doesn’t appear to be cold but I can see her sweet breath crystallize and fade away on the breeze. I recognize her, but not as a young girl, instead I have seen her, known her as a woman, one whose lived a life of struggle, of pain and loss and sickness. But in spite of it she always seemed to be surrounded by light that shown in her eyes, it danced wildly there and in a deeper place too that she held safely, gently, as if it were a small tender puppy.

I want to offer her my coat but she doesn’t seem to be cold, she looks back over her shoulder at me as if knowing I want to help her, but with a look as if to say that she was fine, she smiles and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks, it’s a huge and bright smile and it made me feel swell.

Then she suddenly turned back towards the woods and from somewhere in the darkness the hefty, crunchy footsteps came louder, closer. I am afraid but she is not, instead she stands firm, tall and proud. In a moment of sudden quiet, an unkindness of ravens rushed from the trees and  flew straight for her, turning at the last instant, she, unfazed and smiling raises her arms in support and celebration of them. She seemed to see the beauty in them as they flock and swarm overhead.

Just then from behind a thickly barked Evergreen the shadow appears in the form of a wolf, its face stern and black, it’s eyes deep and mysterious, its breathe weighty and wafting, it echoes over the field in which the girl stands firmly. My heart skips as the wolf steps out in the direction of her, slowly, methodically. The deep brown, sweaty hair on its shoulders rising and falling as it makes its way to her.

I fear for her, I cry for her, and as the wolf approaches I am confused as she opens her arms in a gesture to suggest her willingness to accept it. The wolf steadily approaches her until it halts just within arm’s reach of her breast. The wolf stands facing her, it’s raspy breath, seems and cold, but she extends her arm and in a slow, gentle manner slides the palm of her small, soft hand along the wolf’s jawline to its chin. Then drops her hand to her side, and something changes, I look at her, she is aged, her skin less soft, her hair thinned and her posture hunched. She glances back at me again over her shoulder and smiles, and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks now wrinkled but no less vibrant.

In her eyes I am pulled in and lost, watching a history of her fending off the wolf, she battles whole-heartedly with each attack, sustaining injuries she fights on as she ages all the while smiling as if to say that no matter the wounds, the damage, she wins because she continues to fight and because she appreciates the fight, respects it and trusts it. It becomes her struggle, and though never does she control it she conquers it daily, surviving and living in spite of it, smiling always.

But today seems different; she appears tired, but not beaten. Instead she smiles at the wolf and the wolf lowers its head to her, it seems to respect her. Suddenly she steps to it and together they begin to walk towards the wood, I try and follow them but cannot move, I am not welcome there, not yet.

The two of them walk side by side, companions at rest, reverential partners in the echoes of battle they slowly disappear into the shadows. I fall to my knees and cry, I weep for her and for my loss. When I open my eyes again the moon has risen, and it is quiet but then in the distance, the triumphant call of an owl reverberates among the trees and I know it is her, it is Pennie, she is free from the pain, and she has earned her place away from the fight, she is in the presence of magic, of mystery and ancient knowledge.

Now at night, when I hear the hoot of an owl, I will know it is her, among the animals she loved so much, watching over her puppies, and I imagine her, smiling somewhere beneath the light of the moon, her eyes shining brightly from behind her swollen cheeks.

in remembrance,

Pennie Harrington 1950-2019


Cool, October Fog

I crawled out from the small tent, my partner still fast asleep. It was already after 8am and I loved sleeping in among the deciduous forest, the fresh air, the smells, the sounds at night of the insects singing, and small woodland critters dashing through the tall prairie grass under gently whooshing trees in the moonlight. But it was time to rise and greet the morning.

As I stood tall and stretched, the cool October air surrounded me, so I pulled on my fleece and looked around. The sun was still below the tree line and barely visible through the thick morning fog that covered the bluffs high above the Mississippi River. I needed to gather water for breakfast and wood for a fire, so I walked the path out from the trees and over hills among the bluff top prairie. Just beyond the fog at the edge of the forest were Birch trees, Maple and Oak, the knee high grass was wet, the dark maroon Sumac leaves dripped, laden with condensation.

There is a place for spiritual awakening in moments like these; I stand there on the dirt path, still, listening to my surroundings. Something moves inside the tree line, possibly a deer, one from the family whom visited our camp during dinner the night before. I can hear droplets of water out in the mist perhaps hitting a rock or a broad leaf. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with rich, river valley air and when I exhale my breath almost instantly falls to the ground.

When I return to camp my partner has awaken and has waiting for me a hot, steaming, mug of coffee, I drop the wood and begin building a fire to the hissing sound of our camp stove as it begins to boil water for oatmeal. I look over at her with her long, dark hair, sipping from her mug of cocoa, her eyes still a little sleepy, she is so beautiful, raw, and real and seems to belong here among nature’s finest gifts. We share a love of Mother Nature, exploring the hills, forests, the bluffs and river bottoms, mountains and valleys. It is here we find our spirituality at its purest, it’s here we find the love we share for each other, in its truest, most honest form.