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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

A Sparkling Thread

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Dolphin, Ocean
Dolphin, Ocean, Surreal, CCO

Once upon a time, not long ago, I caught sight of a sparkling new thread as it wove its way into my landscape. There are various kinds of threads, this being the guiding kind, I decided to pick it up to follow what I have come to know as intuition, a return to wisdom. Leaving behind more threads, and with much care, this would become an integral part of my tapestry. 

I could not get my bearings without the constant swell of mountains, curves, and bends that here are sometimes impassible. As the golden light spilled onto the endless road ahead, what began as a narrow path, quickly opened up.

Ignoring your calling, fearing change, and staying in one place too long can threaten to make you small. At times, being small is good. In fact, it is essential. However, you must not become so small that you disappear entirely. You may believe that you are playing it safe, but it is possible to get lost in the places that you think you know well. It is with conviction that I write these words, as here in these woods, I often linger at the threshold of complete disappearance. I have unearthed sublime solitude; therefore, I crave it.

This guiding thread led me away from the long, snowy winters that I knew and have inhabited since before my birth. So, for eleven years, before the cold settled in, I traveled far away from my roots to learn about a very different place. 

I came to know the land, the sea, and the mangroves. The birdsong was new to my ears, and the lizards stopped and looked me straight in the eye before dashing across the screen and disappearing beneath a clay flower pot. Who needs poison for bug control?

Not you.

Not me.

And certainly, not them. 

I came upon medicine that grows in this unknown, wild place. 

I ate intoxicating fruit from the vine. 

I explored over forty islands. 

I fell in love with the sea.

Once, when I was swimming, all of the people, except for me (and an old wise woman who was in up to her ankles), happened to leave the water. I stayed in place while noticing a current moving on the surface, coming in my direction. Without further warning, an aggregation of manatees came swirling around, forever changing my perspective. I could have reached out and touched them, but I was frozen in the frame of the miracle. There was no fear, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I would never, ever be the same.

The tiny jellyfish that rolled in with the waves stung my legs enough to let me know of their existence and to remind me of the significance of awareness.

At least twice, I made eye contact with a gopher tortoise and met up with more than one alligator. 

I stood on a fire ant hill while overlooking a swamp. They quietly and stealthily climbed up to my knees, just like in the cartoons. I handled it well—no panicking—only about a dozen or so bites.

I was only inches away from a cottonmouth snake as I spotted it curled up beneath a small culvert. I knew to keep my distance. I returned the next day to see if it was still there. It was. 

A spider bite that I will never forget came from a brown recluse spider. It took several months, maybe even a year, for my immune system to fully recover. However, I learned about spiders. I mean, really heard their urgent call, to stop and understand them more, which I do. They are resilient and clever, weaving an ongoing web of stories. I was reminded to do the same. I got too much sun but learned to find the balance. I made friends with a very friendly snowy egret that wanted to come inside and join me while I had my morning coffee. 

I listened to the mockingbirds. They sing in the middle of the night during the mating season. I played “Listen to the Mockingbird” on my cornet, specifically for the male that used to sit on the fence. He wasn’t impressed. Actually, he seemed appalled that I would even make an attempt. In my defense, I thought for sure that a Yankee girl playing a Southern favorite would at least get a slight pause. No. That only happened at reenactments. Sadly, that thread is still somewhat tender.

With my nose buried in field guides for butterflies, birds, and plants from this other part of the world, I couldn’t learn enough. I was taken aback and in awe of the multitude of winged ones and other creatures.  I avoided crowds and tourist places as much as possible.

Over and over again, I marveled at pelicans as they flew in formation—mighty squadrons—diving into the water. Ibises make me smile. I realized that wood storks and sandhill cranes are about as tall as me.

I became addicted to the feel of white talcum powder sand beneath my feet. 

More than once, I drank a little too much good rum. With an abundance of fresh fruit, it was an easy thing to do. I quickly got a handle on it.

Just as the sight of a jacaranda tree in the spring, the scent of night jasmine and orange blossoms can make me weep. 

One night in winter, I got up before dawn and viewed the blood moon and didn’t need a jacket. I made jewelry and adornments from Neptune’s treasures. I collected more sharks’ teeth and shells than I know what to do with. 

I got seasick in the middle of the Caribbean but was able to get my sea legs.

I went to mile marker zero many times and blew out my flip flop and put the lime in the coconut. I realized that if I had a house like Hemingway, and with that many cats, I too might become a legend. 

I watched dolphins so many times, I lost count. I went tubing with a harbor full of tiger sharks but didn’t know about it until I watched the news later that night. I wondered why it was so quiet that day.

Only days before the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, I stood on a beach, on the Gulf of Mexico, holding hands with others dressed in black. We represented an oil slick. And then it happened. With an aching heart and crushed spirit, I watched the wildlife diminish greatly.

It is not over.

I entered into the warm, turquoise waters of the Gulf. I prayed for the healing of the sea, all life, and connected ecosystems. 

I mourned.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel and began my second one there. 

I celebrated.

However, after the grievous wounding of the Gulf, the sparkling thread slowly turned back—heading north. Six years later, after witnessing a continuous great loss of life, it was time to return home, to the woods and the mountains, to be deliciously and appropriately small and brave the long winters again. It’s where I belong, where the earth remembers me, and I am aligned with the cycles and seasons. 

I followed the sparkling thread to that alluring place, showing me that the Garden of Eden is here, or it is there. It is where we are open to its presence and are willing to give it the nourishment, love, and care that it will infinitely return. Knowing this not only reclaims paradise, it reclaims our place in it.


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