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  • Mj Pettengill

Marya of the Wood: Follow the Ferns


Fantasy, Woods, CCO

In one of the magical corners of my world, some ferns grow taller than me. The ferns of the previous season were greener than any in my memory. When they emerged, there was an instant connection—they were not like the others.

Most ferns here mingle with other varieties, such as sweet ferns, and a plethora of wild-land plants, too numerous to list. It’s a jungle here, not as you imagine, not a textbook jungle, but a place where all living beings are treated with respect and allowed to thrive. In return, there is medicine, habitat, and food for us all.

Of course, those indoctrinated in the world of manicured lawns, clear-cut spaces, and an affinity for the use of death-spray, it only looks like chaos and an immediate quest to eradicate. The old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure applies to the wild, too. One either gets it or doesn’t, and that’s okay.

Every time I was in the vicinity of the ferns, they waved at me. If you spend time amongst such sacred places, you know that this is common for ferns and other plants. However, this was more like a calling—an urgency and beckoning presence.

I like the trail beyond those ferns, because once in the woods, it is clear that it hasn’t suffered. It is a patch of wellness that has been under constant threat for as long as I remember.

The canopy of both conifers and deciduous trees and the sprawling understory is intact. Other areas are plagued by various infestations, weather events, and felled intentionally by man’s design, leaving remnants to lie carelessly on the forest floor. In all of its rotting glory, it gives back to the community—death as it should be. So above, and so below.

The ferns are the gatekeepers, inviting me into what is left of that which is good and still remains. They are ambassadors of a slice of our wildness that maintains balance and wellness. For that, I take a deep bow.

Even when hanging clothes on the line, feeding hummingbirds, or just walking by a window, I am drawn to them. I watched those ferns throughout the entire summer. I witnessed them as they came and went. I accepted their invitation to wander where I can see out, but no one can see in.

Whenever I passed through the gate, a slight breeze fluttered, assisting the ferns in lightly brushing my skin. During the latter part of a bright day, the sun shone directly on them, illuminating their vast beauty, which was intensified by the contrast of the dark forest floor.

The canines—a gray fox and coy-wolf—often travel through that gateway. The fox wanders about more freely, while the coy-wolf is more secretive, often slipping back into the darkened corridor as quickly as he appears. The others follow the well-traveled trail that crosses the property and beyond. That trail is also often visited by my corvid friends and a few hawks.

The chipmunks follow me around, not in plain sight, but along the edges of the understory. They hope that I am going to feed them. I do carry seeds and nuts in my pockets, but not always. I also believe in my wild neighbors foraging and living as intended.

The feeding stations that I have are not accessible to bears. I do not provide food during their awake time. What I provide is broadly scattered and not attractive to bears. There are a good number of them in this area. With all of the reckless land-clearing in my neighborhood alone, I understand why they are driven to dumpsters and private property. If only they could post their land, what a confusing mess we would have on our hands. Animals have rights. Humans must take their well-being into consideration.

When out in the woods, the land is quiet. I tend to get lost in the silence. Not as one would equate with a vacuum. A lack of the edgy din of human activity indicates that it is harmoniously tacit. There is no need for words. The sounds from our brothers and sisters are steeped in innocence. Over the years, I have grown to know this land intimately.

Trees that once offered shelter and shaded my light have fallen—some by the ax, others by infestation and weather. Then there are the ones that simply could not carry on after the heart of their grove was decimated. A few of them stand boldly, swaying in the winds, lasting longer than I expected.

The land of the fallen ones is fertile. In addition to deciduous saplings, many healing volunteers have shown up in the hole where the heart once was. Life does carry on. When one thing dies, another is born. Each tree has its own story and has witnessed the world for well over one hundred years. Secrets swirl, caressing moss-covered rocks and whispering through the flickering canopy of knowing survivors before sinking back into the roots where they will wait until the next opportunity to bring forth life.

The birdsongs rise and fall with my pulse. The insects come and go. The animals—guardian spirits—wander as it serves them. Myths that we heard in our childhood, but chose to dismiss, linger in shadows, threatening to appear to our awakened selves.

To love these secrets is to embrace uncertainty, unearthing lessons of our past, present, and future possibilities without limitation and censorship. As always, straying from the perceived path is recommended.

Magic prevails as long as you stop guessing and struggling. When you trust that what is behind the gatekeepers—giant ferns—is the calling of an ancient voice. It asks that you go both in light and darkness. Do trust the nights when the moon is hidden. Bring your own light to shine as you bravely meander through the shadows.

Remember who you are and that you are where you need to be. Follow the ferns into the ancient past, the untold stories of the land. Reclaim the act of creating, giving, and nourishing life on a primal level. It is not lost, nor are you.

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