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  • Mj Pettengill

Marya of the Wood: The Last Note


Swift, the Gray Fox

In August's waning days, I detect the lone cricket—the one that will be the final, enduring voice of summer. Over and above the others, it stands out. The sustaining note only begins to waver when we are on the edge of our first frost. Stanza by stanza, we encounter longer pauses that render me breathless as I anticipate the last one.

Sometimes, this goes on for many nights. I used to stand by the back kitchen door, quietly cheering it on, You can sing just one more night, one more song, one more note.

I realize that it is unfair. Is my dependency on its presence merely the denial of the onset of an unforgiving winter? Would one more lonely ballad push away the inevitable? I have this ongoing inner-dialogue. I know the answers, yet I continue to rely on a wavering voice for comfort. Before it is down to the one, in the fullness of summer, I listen to those that join in. Still, they get distracted, coming and going accordingly. They aren't going to stick around. In midsummer, it is the cicada that brings a change of key and tempo.

I tune into rhythms and seasons. No matter what I think I know, there will always be random surprises. Some I like and others I must navigate and find the lessons that dwell in every rock, leaf, and being. Nature is predictable and unpredictable. We have an idea of what to expect, but the unexpected prevails. In the early spring, the symphony begins in a major key with wood frogs and peepers. I usually trip over myself when I dash outdoors to record them. The wood frogs almost always stop if they have even a hint that you are closeby. Over the years, I have become masterful at sneaking up on them. They all love it here because there are two vernal pools, a multitude of streams, and a pond—all of this in the sacred wood.

Following a long winter, everyone is eager to get out and bathe in the sunshine. There is a small window of time when we can enjoy this—mud season—before the bugs and deadly ticks arrive. After I have celebrated the arrival of the first players in the symphony, the thrushes and veery join in with their melodious songs, cascading down from all corners of the fields and wood. Last spring, we had an exceptional soloist, a whip-o-will. I sat on the back kitchen steps and smiled from the deepest part of myself. The concerto is lengthy and has many movements that ebb and flow with the weather, the skies, and the wide range of visitors that step in as featured soloists, filling the air with untamed arias. Beyond the music, a magical interlude emerged. It took the form of a gray fox that I refer to as an unplanned treasure. I unknowingly summoned her when I created her character in a magical winter story about a snowgirl named Glenna. Her name is Swift, and she was a guide. Imagine my surprise when Swift showed up. She stopped by daily, sometimes more than once, for about three months. She ate bits of apple peels and the cores that I tossed out, and she visited the compost pile. Her favorite spot was near the heart of the roses. I had never seen a gray fox before.

I have no interest in breaking the rules. Wild animals must remain so. Every night, when I brought in the bird feeders to keep the bears and me safe, I sang a Norwegian song—a call to the wild. It was a sign to all that it was my last trip out for the day. Within a few moments, she emerged from the tall ferns and pine grove, cautious and aware. I sat by the window and played my cello while I watched her. One time, she stopped by with her two kits. They were playing and then sunning themselves on the hill outside of my window. This reminded me of a time when my own children were very young and playful. I looked forward to seeing her, not overstepping my boundaries, but simply watching her as a beautiful animal. In some way, she had become an ally. As I gathered wild medicinal plants and tended the garden, I always wondered if she were near. Sometimes I spotted her dashing back into the ferns. About three weeks ago, I saw her for the last time. I was filled with unexpected sorrow. It was surprising to me how her presence had brought so much joy. I was grateful to be able to observe her from a safe distance. It took about a week for me to comprehend the lesson in her visits and departure. I knew that there was something to learn. She is a wild animal. Just being able to see her when I did was a gift. Her lesson to me is one word—impermanence. Nothing lasts forever. It is a powerful reminder to be in the present.

Before we met, I had known this. My bond to the land and its inhabitants is not new. I came to rely on this brief connection as I carried grief and trauma from many seasons in my life, the most recent, the loss of my mother.

I have been in and out of grieving for almost two years. The trees, plants, animals, insects, and birds have played a significant role in my transformation. Swift brought what may have been the final gift in healing the mother wound. One of the most essential elements of these healing gifts has been stitched into a higher awareness of my sense of belonging. I have always relied on the land, the waters, the wildlife, and trees to cradle and guide me. Swift's presence reassured me that all creatures are part of me and always have been.

Because of our ancient ways of knowing, we connected. I saw Swift in the light and in the darkness. She knew the song created for her. I knew how to sing it. We are both instinctual creatures—she in the wild, and me, always turning away from the ills of the civilized world. Like most, I crave peace. And when I have retreated into the cave, the creative womb, for restoration and to lick my wounds, the wilderness is what helps me grow. Throughout all of this weaving together of wild imperfection, the voices continue to dwindle away, slipping into a minor key. One cricket will sing the last note. I will be there, only this time I will not ask for an encore. I will take a deep bow and walk once more in the departing season with bare feet upon Our Mother. I will accept the truth in our song, honoring sacred wisdom and teachings.

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