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  • Mj Pettengill

Marya of the Wood: Farewell to Willow


Stories, Woods, Fantasy, CCO

There’s a large, speckled rock in the middle of the pond, and until the beaver showed up, I had only seen turtles and frogs on it. The first time I spotted the beaver, I was awash with a medley of emotions. 

My initial response was pure excitement. A few days before, I hiked in the nearby woods, discovering that it had been recklessly and violently destroyed—trees slashed—leaving behind devastation and tangled debris. Both body and soul of these previously thriving woods had been robbed and left without a beating heart. The usual song of birds, the rustling of leaves, and woodland creatures had become a vacuum. Not only did they lose their homes, but they also lost their voices.

The simple act of walking, climbing over fragments of tree limbs scattered about in haphazard piles, was a challenge and perilous. Within moments, the aching silence snatched away my own life’s breath. I stumbled and literally fell face down on the soggy, sawdust-covered limbs that had become the new forest floor. 

My hiking partner, who was ahead of me, called out, “Are you okay?”

  “Don’t worry,” I lied. “I’m fine.” Somehow, I had the strength to rise up to my feet.

In uncharted territory, we had just encountered a new world, a place where no one could escape, a pandemic that had become our collective narrative with or without our permission. There were only remnants of snow, plenty of mud, and wood chips beneath our feet. I regretted wearing snow boots, but that would not solve the shattered puzzle. I braced myself against the wind and looked out at the scorched earth—intolerable emptiness—and wanted to escape.

It was a promise, a promise of enchantment and light in what had been the unplanned culmination of a dark winter like no other. I had told him about this sacred spot in the woods. A place that was so ancient and beautiful, there would have been nothing but magical energy abound. 

If only I could have found it. There were no recognizable landmarks on the jagged trail of ruins. I tried to picture certain rocks, and where I was before, but there was no way out.

Carefully, setting one foot in front of the other, we continued searching. Each step was a step closer to plummeting into complete darkness. I had lost faith and confidence in the journey. I longed for familiar terra, a chance for earthing, and much-desired rootedness. 

The sight of the massacre—mangled tree roots and scarred limbs—proved to be too much. Although the trees were not felled by my ax or one that I knew, I cried out for forgiveness in my head and from my heart. Humans know not what they do. 

There was reassurance in the remnants of stone walls. I found myself following them, hoping to find the stories to make sense of it all. However, they were either broken or buried, too.

Exhausted, I finally found my way to a stump in a sheltered hollow and sat. I tried to explain to my friend that it really was sacred and pristine, and I did not know how or what it had become. 

As good friends do, he offered comfort, telling me that he sensed that it was once sacred, indeed.

It was time to surrender, a time to remember the value in what Jung referred to as the Shadow. If we are to become whole, we must follow the broken path. We have an opportunity to trust in ourselves, walk within our fear, anger, grief, and bewilderment—a descent into the places we would not otherwise dream of going. 

This wandering summoned a surge of hopelessness. Disillusionment waited in the wings. For what will rise up from the debris and the broken forest is rebirth, new life. Once the worth of what is lost is realized, we can consider the remains. But we must know the weight of the fragments that we gather before releasing or rebuilding.

Seeing this beaver just days after the hike, was a glimmer of unexpected possibilities and joy. After deciding to welcome my new neighbor, I set out to learn all that I could. I read books and looked up everything beaver. 

Each morning, I walked to the edge of the pond and marveled at it. What a beautiful, yet misunderstood, being. We took certain precautions to protect fruit and other trees. I never knew much about these creatures, and I was impressed by what I had learned.

About three weeks passed, and the beaver was busy making a home and damming various areas of the streams and pond. I watched him from a safe distance, not that I felt threatened, but respecting its boundaries.

Then, the re-construction project of my studio—near the pond—began. There were hammers, table saws, and many other loud types of machinery running day after day. That is when Willow left. I continued to look for him, but he never returned. I read that they don't like noise. I hoped that after the construction ended, he would return. But he did not.

I am grateful for Willow’s brief stay. I was able to learn so much about beavers that I may never have discovered. I felt appreciation and openness towards them and the other animals that have had their habitats destroyed by deforestation and other human activity. I stepped into my role as one who honors and tends to the land and creatures that inhabit it.

Should another beaver take up residence, I am prepared. Most of the stories that people tell about them are myths. Once again, we have failed to comprehend the value of other creatures that inhabit the earth as we do. Willow is so much more than a hat.


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