Neighborly

Like for many folks, April has been the cruelest of months thus far, with a few shining moments peeking out from the weather of Mercury Retrograde and Saturn and Mars conjunct, let alone Saturn Retrograde. The problems that have cropped up have been problems that really demand Saturnine responses: tending to the home; diligence; patience; working to establish better relationships with the neighbors and the Neighbors; working to establish, negotiate, secure, and expand all kinds of boundaries; a lot of “mundane” hard work; the persistent cultivation of “mundane” and “enchanted” ecosystems; establishing and continuing good habits; and more, I’m sure. I feel like it should go without saying, but those tasks aren’t really “mundane” so much as existing on a continuum with the physical included, with influences going out from the physical and coming in from the, to me, non-physical.

So, like most of April, it’s also been a busy week, and I’ve not had the chance to do a lot of sitting and staring at sky and clouds and trees and wind that I would like to do. As I wait for one of those service appointments with the window of “sometime today,” I had the chance to sit outside and take in a breezy, shady, mostly reflective sit-down with Those Who Are Outside My Walls. I spend a lot of time indoors, and I’m one of those folks who has two layers of black-out curtains on the windows in the bedroom. I literally and metaphorically wall-off the outside world even as I have come to rather appreciate that world, but I’ve always been more a late-night person, and early mornings are for other people.

Anyway, I am sitting outside, and I have the wind through the trees, the afternoon sun playing across the leaves, and I can sense the world communicating. I can’t say the world is talking, for I feel confident that singing is far more accurate. Dancing. Meaning. And so on. And, as is my wont, I start trying to communicate back. My go to method, of course, is to talk.

BacklitI try to foreground (to myself) that I need to listen and be receptive, too—I can monologue with the best of them. So, I listen, I feel. Despite feeling a little awkward relying so much on words, I recognize that I also had practical intentions I want to broach, some of those April and SatCap and related topics.

But I take the time to just sit with the world first—I’ve missed “being there.” As I am doing so, I’ve learned to better note where my thoughts may wander—how I might be “inspired.” I think about the “Paracelsian elementals” I’ve seen—and I notice them in the air and in the growing underbrush. I acknowledge aloud that I don’t know if they are gnomes and sylphs—even if they seem that way to me—and I don’t know if such names might annoy or anger them, or simply be inaccurate.

I know the name of the river and her lands, the name of the forest father and the earthy mother. I have a good idea what their sons and daughters look like in the “spirit world,” and I know the odd name (title? role?) I gleaned for many of them a couple of summers back. I know the name of the brook a 20-minute walk south-ish of me. And as much as I see sinuous serpents and sylphs in the blue sky and through the tree branches, as much as I see gnomes or dwarves moving through the now very green and overgrown spring foliage, I don’t know how they might call themselves.

The solution, of course, is to venture out and talk to them, listen to them. I doubt they call themselves any such words—I can imagine a scene like the one in the 1980 Superman II where General Zod and company think they are on the Planet Houston after talking to the locals—but at that moment, I still had the distraction of the day’s tasks, and I do not cleanly negotiate where I am focusing my attention and consciousness, from the human social reality to the other reality just outside.

I also reflect on my life under these trees and in this land, other than the many years I spent at uni.

I find myself thinking about lore out of the fairy faith about relations with the Neighbors—give or leave gifts for them. Don’t pay. Don’t commodify the relationship or them. You’re neighbors—treat them like you are so. Don’t treat them as servants, as employees, as slaves, or mercenaries. I had a definite sense that the spirits who are transactional are really rather more, well, venal, certainly less neighborly, than your friendly neighborhood genius loci can be. (I wonder if they tend to look at the far more contractual spirits as, well—trouble.)

I am looking at the trees and sky and winds that had inspired me for my “Forest Mind” post a few weeks back, and I realize—all this had inspired, in-spirited me. That post and its ideas are just as much authored by them as by me. That post has proved curiously (to me) popular and inspiring for folks, and I reflect on how this patch of urban-ish woodland—most folks probably wouldn’t think to call it a forest, wouldn’t recognize it as such for all the development trying to, itself, tamp down the Green—but this forest has inspired me, has inspired folks from all over the world.

And that forest also inspired me to start trying to write (mostly juvenile) poetry all those years ago when I discovered Keats and Wordsworth and the British Romantic poets, as I am reading about Romantic “nature” even as I’m sitting outside in my front yard, with an edition of Keats’s complete poems from the public library, or—no, Wordsworth’s Prelude, which I remembered getting kinda bored with even as I’m outside, looking up on a cloudy spring day as the trees are thick, deep green, slick green with moisture on them. That forest continues to inspire me as I do magic, as I try to teach younger generations, as I try to live my life here.

I ponder aloud to the wind, sky, trees, foliage what sorts of things I might offer to it, and I have the distinct sense of sing. The song that comes to mind is one of those juvenile poems I’d written a long while ago—about a cat with a nonsense name and a fiddle in the Land of Oss and how the cat goes off into the forest to find the Queen of the Faeries and finds her and sings her a particular song that—well, as I’m softly-singing it to the forest now, from my phone and the cloud—seems entirely appropriate for what I’m doing now. And I feel the wind pick up around me as I get to the cat’s song—

cat-playing-fiddle-postcard

Cat Playing Fiddle Postcard
(Karen Arnold)

And the sense I get is, well, learn to sing with the forest.

The gnomes I get the sense wanted cheese. I’m definitely going to divine about that, though.

I’ve written before about our relationship with “nature” and environment—Augustin Berque’s ideas of mediance and trajection, how our attention of nature penetrates it, defines it, but nature in turn penetrates us, changes us and how we think and feel and experience our lives and the world. More recently, I’ve pointed to Becca Tarnas and Tim Ingold coming at similar ideas of living in the world, with Tarnas pointing to the archetypal dimension of our engagement with the world through which we are moving.

Those are the more intellectual expressions of what I’m noticing now, as I reflect now on singing about a cat and a fiddle and the Queen of Faerie to the local forest and genius loci. As I’m working here during SatCap to negotiate a Saturnine winter where I have home and family I want to be joyous, safe, and prosperous—and enchanted—well, that “spirit world,” that enchanted reality, that Kingdom is at hand, has always been at hand, and has been in some kind of (thus far, mostly unconscious) dialogue with me.

And along the way, I find myself impatiently wanted to push on all these topics even as I have a career and all those human social things and annoying April things that have both drawn attention to that enchanted world and its co-presence with those “mundane” realities while also emphasizing the need for patience and work.

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