Jan 04, 2004.
The excitement was palpable in the van as I turned onto the road to the cabin. Eyes, ears, and noses were in constant motion as Mutt, Katt, and Mama verified with their senses what I had been telling them, that we were almost home. Those first frightening days that had turned into exhausting weeks and then months were over. We had won; and it was finally time to rest and return to our home.
Ever since the twenty-first I had been growing more and more anxious then almost frantic to return. Yet even now, as the familiar road closed in behind us, shutting the outside world away, I did not know why. I simply knew I was finally home. I turned off the motor and opened the side door for us to get out. My companions tumbled out of the van, almost knocking me down in their haste to feel the ground of home beneath their feet once more. Yet once standing on the familiar ground they became intently still. I could feel their senses straining to glean every ounce of information they could from the very air around us. Wearily I grabbed my bag, closed the van door, and climbed the steps to the porch. The van and everything else in it could stay in the driveway tonight. The key slid into the lock silently, and the door swung open, Welcoming us home at last.
For a while I busied myself with starting a fire and getting dinner for us; but finally all was done. The emergency door that closed the cat door to outside critters when we were gone was latched open so Katt and Mama could come and go at will, Mutt had already tried his latch on the front door, and we had eaten our fill of a hastily prepared dinner. I sank down on the rug in front of the fire, feeling the weight of the last long months drain away, leaving me exhausted yet feeling like there was still something left undone. Wearily I put another log on the fire and sank back down, barely able to keep my eyes open any longer.
Jan 05, 2004.
I awoke with a start as the wan winter sun began to shine in through the windows. The fire was out; and I was cold. Mutt, Katt, and Mama were curled up against me, trying to keep me warm. I had slept for almost 12 hours straight. I coaxed some kindling into burning and stacked a couple of small logs on it to get the fire going again, then headed for the shower. The anxiousness was back, worrying at the edges of my consciousness, and I knew I would have to give in to it this morning.
Jan 05, 2004.
Closing the door after us, I started down the path toward the pond. First one thing and then another had delayed us; and it was now late afternoon. The last traces of snow lay in pockets of deep shade; but most of the ground was bare and dry. The weeds and signs of neglect around the pond hit me almost like a physical blow. However, after a sad look, I continued on around the pond, following whatever was calling me. Mutt, Katt, and Mama were satellites around me, sometimes one then another in front of me or off to the side as they relished their first excursion outside the city in a long time.
Soon I found myself ducking beneath the last cedar branch into The Grove as I had begun calling it to myself. My sense of urgency was even greater but suddenly directionless. Whatever had been calling me seemed satisfied now that I was here, as if I should know what to do now. But I didn't. For the first time I noticed four wider spaces between the guardian stones. Walking over to the closest one, it looked like there might be fewer wild rose bushes there; but still nothing I could walk through. The next one was the same; but two miniature guardian stones marked the next one. I continued around to the next one; and it too was overgrown. Returning to the one with the smaller guardian stones, I peered through the deepening darkness into the undergrowth; and thought I could see two more stones just a little ways in. The undergrowth wasn't thorny either. I reached for my flashlight, only to discover I had either dropped it or not brought it at all. As dark as it was getting, I didn't dare go any farther without some kind of light. Reluctantly, I headed back toward the cabin.
Jan 06, 2004.
After a night filled with restless dreaming that I couldn't remember, the sun was barely up as Mutt, Katt, Mama, and I reached the barrier around the grove. I had a backpack filled with gardening tools, rolls, sandwiches, and flashlights with me. I was not leaving today until I had found whatever it was that I needed to find or do. I shrugged the backpack off my shoulders, and stooped low to begin worming my way through the barrier, marveling again at how no trace of our comings and goings ever showed.
As I stood upright again inside the grove, the sun was just topping the trees. I had never been here at dawn before; and I stood in awe at the brilliant shafts of light streaming through the treetops and striking the guardian stones on the opposite side. They seemed almost to be drinking in the sunlight. Not one beam of light was reflected in any direction; and there were no shadows behind them. My mouth dropped open as I suddenly understood what I had thought.
"There are no shadows!" I said out loud to the companions; and Mama answered for all three.
"Of course there aren't," she said, as if that was the most natural thing in the world.
"But there has to be shadows," I said, crossing to the guardian stone most directly in the rays of the sun.
"Why?" she asked, her question as unsettling as the realization was.
Holding my hand up between the sun and the stone, it cast a shadow on the stone; but there was still no shadow behind it. I stood there for a long time, trying to grasp what I was seeing until finally Mama had had enough. She padded over to the place where I thought I had seen smaller guardian stones last night and meowed. Mutt and Katt followed her; and I jerked my attention away from the mystery of no shadows to join them.
There were stones there. They were far enough apart that three people could walk between them; and beyond them I could see two more, and two more just beyond the second pair. I dropped the backpack and took out the pruning shears. This might not be why I was here; but clearing this path was something I could do while my mind wrestled with the lack of shadows. I fell to with a will, the companions dragging the brush to the fire pit in the center of the grove. We worked like this until we began to get hungry. After the first set of seven pairs, the path narrowed slightly; and narrowed again after the second set of seven pairs. Now reaching the seventh pair of the third set, I could see that it narrowed even more; and beyond it the brush was suddenly much sparser. I could see all seven pairs of the next set of stones. Suddenly feeling both cold and hungry, I headed back to the grove; and lit a small fire in the center of the brush pile, throwing as much brush as I could on top of it before digging the rolls and meat out of the backpack. I settled down with my back against the nearest sitting stone; and shared the food with my companions as we watched the fire. My hands and shoulders aching from the unaccustomed work, I shared one of the bottles of water with my companions, piled the rest of the brush on top of the fire, and settled back to rest and warm up until the fire burned itself out.
Jan 06, 2004.
My eyes opened with a start, realizing that I had dropped off into a deep sleep after eating breakfast. Nearby, Mutt and Mama were dozing too; but Katt was exploring the newly cleared path. It had a fresh, new green color; and there was no trace of the stubble I had left in my work this morning. There was barely a trace of smoke rising from the ashes of the fire. The sun was high overhead; and I realized I had slept for several hours. I packed everything back in the backpack; and got up, stretching. "Let's go guys," I called to Mutt and Mama as I grabbed the backpack by its straps to carry it and started off toward the path. I was right. Where I had left trampled and gouged earth a few hours ago, new growth was beginning. I couldn't tell what it was; but it was well on its way to covering all traces of disturbance. Above me, the tree branches seemed less entwined, and the winter sunlight penetrated to the path.
I thought that I might be able to explore the rest of the path without any more cutting; and I was right. The new green growth extended beyond where I had quit working. I set the backpack on my shoulders; and continued walking. The path was now only wide enough for two people abreast; and no longer ran straight and level. Instead, it gently followed the contours of the ground as we passed four more sets of seven pairs of stones. I was no longer sure which direction we were walking when without warning, the path ended in another clearing. To my left I could almost see sky between the trees; and I thought we were near the bluffs.
This clearing was smaller than the first one; but was covered with the same brown grass like plant as the first one. In the center was an ancient altar raised up on a large block of stone. Three steps led up to the altar platform on each of the four sides while in the square spaces between the steps were what looked to be raised flowerbeds. Three rows of guardian stones ringed the clearing in staggered rows, giving it the feeling of great importance. It felt as if even the air in the clearing was holding it's breath as I stepped off the path and walked around the altar. Each individual guardian stone could clearly be seen, as if each was to be a witness to whatever transpired there. The altar was pitted with the same lichens as the guardian stones; and, as I approached, there was a faint smell of flowers in the air.
Hesitantly, I climbed the three steps to the altar platform. The smell of the flowers was stronger here, as if emanating from the stone itself. Despite the lichens, the top was smooth and glasslike, the edges beveled and deeply carved with runes and flowers like the pendant I wore. My fingers traced the runes; and as I touched each in turn, I heard a faintly different tone coming from somewhere. Were they names, I wondered? Perhaps of gods and goddesses or heros? Why had I never been able to find even a hint of such a culture in my research last year? The runes seemed different on all four sides; but in the middle of each side was a deeper depression that looked like an inversion of the pendant. Mutt, Katt, and Mama were watching me expectantly; and I drew out the pendant to compare it to the central carving on the side I was standing on. I looked closely; and gasped as the import of what I saw struck home. If I knelt down it looked as if the pendant would fit perfectly in the carving. I stepped back, nearly tumbling off the narrow platform, wondering what would happen if I laid the pendant in the depression. Who was I to try and unravel such ancient mysteries? What right did I have to wear this pendant?
Deliberately I turned my back on the altar and walked down the steps away from it. But it was a struggle.
"Why are you fighting?" asked Mutt.
I stopped in my tracks, he so seldom spoke with words, preferring to go about his own business being the least affected by our bonding.
I looked at each one of my companions in turn. "Will you stay with me?" I asked.
"We are always with you," Mama replied; and I could feel the assent of Mutt and Katt through her.
Reassured, I stepped back up the steps and knelt beside the altar, raising the pendant to let it fall into the depression. For a moment nothing happened; and then from somewhere beneath me I could feel the grinding of ancient machinery. Inch by laborious inch the altar slab began to move sideways to reveal an ancient stairway going down into the darkness. Almost side by side Katt and Mama slipped through the opening and down the stairs, then it was wide enough for Mutt to follow them. Finally it was wide enough for me; and I carefully started down the narrow steps cut out of the rock around me. The shaft itself showed signs of being cut by ancient tools; and I had to stoop to pass underneath the track on which the altar slab rode. Once below it, the steps became wider and shallower, easier to negotiate in the ever increasing darkness of the shaft they circled. There were handholds in the wall at intervals; and I made use of them because the steps were slick with moisture. Above me the altar slab began sliding back over the opening; and I sat down quickly to get a flashlight out of the backpack. Playing the light around me, I could see that the stairs had been carved out of the same stone as the guardians. Fortunately it wasn't much farther to the bottom; but as I stood up my foot slipped out from underneath me. My fingers scraped the walls as I sought one of the handholds to no avail. I felt myself falling........
Jan 07, 2004.
Rough tongues licking my face woke me up. My head hurt; but I didn't think I had any serious injuries from the fall. I couldn't see anything in the darkness; but I could feel the backpack still half on me. I struggled into a sitting position and felt around inside for the extra flashlight. Snapping it on, I blinked in the sudden brightness. I was near the bottom of the steps in a small, circular shaped area. I couldn't have fallen more than six or eight feet from the height of the roof above me; but I must have hit my head pretty hard. I could see the other flashlight on the other side of the cavern. It looked like it had hit something pretty hard too. The end was off; and the batteries were half out of it. I started to get up; and the room started spinning.
"I'm going to have to rest for a while before I can start looking for a way out," I said. "Sorry."
I could feel Mutt, Katt, and Mama's concern; but my head was spinning so much all I wanted was for it to quit. I snapped the flashlight off; and lay back down, pillowing my head on the backpack.
Jan 08, 2004.
I woke up to light. For a moment I couldn't remember where I was. Then it all came flooding back, finding the second clearing, the altar in the center that moved, slipping and hitting my head on the stairs just as I reached the bottom. But it had been dark when I woke up the first time. Where was the light coming from? There was no direction to it. It didn't seem to be coming from anywhere, the room was just light. It wasn't as bright as sunlight; but I could see clearly. I could even see that the cap had just popped off the other flashlight. I sat up and looked around. My head no longer hurt; but I was going to be stiff and sore from the fall. And I was hungry. My watch said it was 7:00 o'clock; but I didn't know if it was the same day or the next morning. No one was with me, so I guessed Mutt, Katt, and Mama were off exploring.
As soon as I thought their names, I heard Mama calling me. "Come here. You'll like this."
"Where?" I asked.
"There's only one way," Mama replied.
Then Mutt chimed in, "I'm hungry."
And Katt replied, "The eating is good."
"Not for me." Mutt replied. "They're too little."
I smiled to myself, picturing Katt and Mama catching and eating mice or something; and big, clumsy Mutt not catching anything.
"I'm coming," I said. "I've still got some sandwiches and water."
"I like the water," said Mutt.
They must have found water then, I thought as I stood up and retrieved the second flashlight. Sure enough, the end had only come off when it hit the stairs or the wall. I shook out the dirt, slipped the batteries back in, and snapped the end cap back on. When I slid the switch forward to check it, the light came on; and I blinked at the sudden brightness. Switching it back off, I put both flashlights in the backpack; and looked around. There was a passageway under the top of the stairs.
"Hurry," urged Mama.
"I'm coming," I replied; and settling the backpack on my shoulders I started down the passageway. It was wide enough for two or three people and well above my head. It curved down and to the right in very wide steps. The floor was the same loamy constancy as the floor of the chamber I'd just left and crossed at intervals with curbs of rock to form the steps. The walls and ceiling were the same lichen encrusted rock as the guardian stones only the lichen seemed a much lighter color. The passage circled around the chamber I had just left. The light started getting brighter; and then the passage ended.
As I stepped down off of the last curb, I stepped into an unbelievable sight. My companions were waiting for me; but I barely noticed them. I couldn't even guess how large the chamber I stepped into was. The same grass-like plant that carpeted the clearings and pathway above ground carpeted the floor of the chamber. To one side irregular large raised beds were filled with vines that clung to the wall and grew all the way to the roof. Many were flowering; and I recognized the vines and flowers carved into the pendant. The room was thick with their sweet scent. The wall on the other side was more regular and seemed to be covered with glowing rivulets. As I stepped closer to it, I saw it was the lichen itself emitting a bright light. Water bubbled up in many basins on the planted wall; and overflowed into rock troughs that collected the runoff in a pool near the other wall where it disappeared through an overflow. I looked around in astonishment. This place just couldn't be. I had to be dreaming or hallucinating from the fall I'd taken. But Mutt's plaintive, "I'm still hungry," allayed that fear.
Turning around, I saw the plants extended behind and beyond the circular wall that was the stairway I'd just descended. It looked like the cavern ended just beyond the circle of guardian stones surrounding the altar. I couldn't begin to guess how far it went in the other direction. Mutt was sniffing at the backpack now; and I crossed the chamber again to sit on the ground and lean back against the low wall of one of the planters. I shared the remaining sandwiches with Mutt while Katt and Mama dozed beside me. I started to take a drink of the water I had brought; but then thought about the water in the basins. Getting up to look at one of them, I saw a beautifully carved stone cup sitting beside it. Whoever built this place must have drank the water, I thought; and holding the cup under the cold water spilling out of the basin I filled it and sipped carefully, then drank deeply. It did taste good.
Not wanting to climb the stairs I had fallen down and look for some way of opening the slab that covered it, I looked around for another way out. Katt and Mama immediately started off toward the other end of the cavern; and I followed, hoping that since they'd obviously eaten well, they'd found another way out. And they had. Another step, and the beginning of another stairway turned into a rocky passage through a cave. I had to crawl, pushing the backpack in front of me to get out through the opening into the cave; but soon we were on the ledge outside the cave in the bluff I had planned to explore before I was called into the city. Looking back, I could hardly imagine where I had just come from; and I couldn't see the opening I had crawled through, it was that well hidden in the shadows. Whatever made the light inside, didn't extend into this outer cave. As I started up the trail up the bluff, I wondered if the man who had owned the property before me had found the hidden garden too. Perhaps he had; and that was why he insisted that the property had to be sold intact.
Jan 10, 2004.
It wasn't until two days later that I felt well enough to even think about what we had found. Sharp pains still lanced through my head unexpectedly; and I ached all over from the fall down the stairs. I realized that it could have been much worse if the ground at the foot of the stairs hadn't been so yielding. I didn't want to go down those stairs again and I couldn't face the thought of crawling back through that tiny hole we had exited from, so I tried to put the thought of going back out of my mind. However, my aches and concerns didn't affect Katt and Mama's boundless curiosity or Mutt's growing boredom at staying in the cabin.
"Tomorrow we'll go back," I said out loud. "Today we'll just take a short walk. I need to work some of this stiffness out."
Even as I said it, I knew where our walk would lead; and I busied myself fixing lunch before we left.
Three hours later, I was as frustrated as my companions. We had tramped around in the woods near the bluff for over two hours and couldn't find a trace of the clearing with the altar in it. It had to be here. I was sure of that. Finally I stopped and sat down on a fallen tree to rest. My head was throbbing again. I hadn't even found a barrier like the thorns and cedar trees that protected the grove from outsiders. Had it been a dream, I wondered? Could something in the brush that we had burned have acted like a hallucinogenic? I would stop at the grove on the way back and see if there really was more of a path than what I had cleared a few days ago. Or did I clear anything at all?
I stooped beneath the last branch and stood up in the grove. There were fresh ashes in the fire pit; and two paths led deeper into the woods. Two paths. I had only started clearing one!
"The things," offered Mama as an explanation.
"What things?" I asked.
"White things in the dirt." was all that Mama could tell me.
I looked around again, walking to the fire-pit to touch the ashes and to the path to feel the fresh new growth so much like the summer growth in the grove. Both were undeniably real. My head was pounding even harder; and I was getting cold despite our exertions. I began shivering. I felt Mutt's head under my hand; and I leaned against him. All I wanted was for my head to quit hurting and to go home and get warm.
It was well after dark when we finally made it into the cabin. Hastily I stirred up the embers in the fireplace, piling some kindling and logs on top of them. Then, I hurried toward the bathroom and a hot shower, shedding hat, gloves, and coat on the way down the hall. As I flipped on the light, I stopped dead in my tracks, my hand going to my breast to verify by touch what I saw. The pendant that had become so much a part of me was lying on the counter. I hadn't picked it up this morning after my shower. I slipped the chain over my head and returned to the living room. Was this why I hadn't been able to find the altar? Had some unknown defense affected me without its protection? I stood staring into the fire, lost in thought, until I realized that my companions were hungry and I should eat too.
"Come on guys, let's go eat." I said. Eagerly they followed me into the kitchen for a dinner I knew I wouldn't be able to eat for all the questions tumbling over themselves in my mind. What had we done a few days ago? What had we set in motion? However, I felt no concern from my companions, no feeling that anything was other than is should be.
Jan 12, 2004.
It was midday before we finally got away from the cabin. It seemed like everybody in the county had heard I was home and dropped by. The sky was a deep blue and it was warm for a winter day as we started down the trail. I was disappointed that I didn't see the fox that had a den in the meadow the trail skirted; and I hoped she was still around. With nobody around to fill the feeders, the area around them was deserted also. It would take time before the animals and birds returned, I thought sadly. There was a dozen things that needed doing; but today I would find out if it was not having the pendant that had kept me from finding the altar again. Tomorrow I would start on the pond if it stayed warm. My head had finally quit hurting yesterday; and today I felt more alive than I had in months. The farther I walked, the better I felt; and the more my spirits rose.
This was the kind of day that always seemed make everybody a little giddy with the hope of spring; and Mutt was traveling four times as far as I was, running from tree to tree smelling to see who had been there. Even Katt and Mama were pouncing on every leaf blown around by an occasional gust of wind. I grinned happily watching them, stopping often to watch and just let them enjoy themselves. I was surprised to find myself almost at the path through the barrier around the grove. I hesitated; and then kept following the deer trail instead, watching for anything that would hint at the smaller clearing with the altar in it. But it wasn't my eyes that gave me a hint that we might be near, it was the pendant. I felt a sudden warmth; and when I drew it out to look at it, it was pulsing faintly. Slowly I turned around in a circle; but there was no change in the pulsing no matter which way I was facing. Scratch that idea I thought. However, since I had turned right away from the pathway into the grove, I turned left off the deer trail. Soon I was in brush too thick to walk through easily. It wasn't as thorny and impassible; but it still kept me from walking in anything resembling a straight line. And finally I had to admit I wasn't sure if I was making any progress toward the clearing or if I was just skirting it. And then there it was, an opening in the brush that I knew would lead me to the altar. And it did.
As I climbed the three steps to the altar, I heard a voice softly chanting something I couldn't understand; and realized it was me. My arms raised the pendant as high as it would go without removing it and held it above the altar, then knelt down and lowered it into the depression made to fit it.
This time my companions waited for me to go down the steps first; and I started down very carefully, afraid of another fall. But this time as the rock closed above me, the walls emitted their soft glow; and I could see the numerous handholds to help me keep my balance. The steps didn't seem as slick either. Once down, I hurried toward the passage. I could faintly smell the flowers and the smell of freshly watered soil. Even expecting the sight, I stopped to stare in amazement as I stepped down off the last curb. The light was brighter than I remembered, the vines seemed to have grown taller, and I was sure there were twice as many blooms. There was a feeling that there were people all around me, just out of sight. It was a very comforting feeling.
I followed the wall of flowers, wondering at the runes and flowers carved everywhere. At regular intervals, the wall was broken by an archway into a smaller chamber. Most of these were carpeted with the same short grass as the main chamber and had shelves carved into the sides that looked like sleeping platforms perhaps. However two or three of these side chambers were just bare soil like the flowers were growing it. As I stepped into the first of these, Mama suddenly said "Things. Here." Daintily, she scraped the dirt back in one spot to reveal fat, colorless, grubs of some sort. I knelt down for a closer look; and they seemed to be working on a pulpy mass of something.
"Rabbit," said Katt.
"You buried a rabbit's entrails here?" I asked.
"Yes," said Mama.
No wonder they hadn't been hungry I thought; but what were these things? They seemed to be doing the about same job here that flies larva did above ground; but I'd never heard of any such thing. Carefully covering the grubs or whatever they were up, I continued my explorations, poking my head into every side chamber. It took an hour just to get to the passage that led to the cave; and reluctantly I started up it, knowing it would soon be dark outside. I was dreading crawling through the hole again; but as I came closer, I saw a faintly glowing patch on the wall. I raised the pendant, and it slipped into a depression like the one on the altar. Calling Mutt, Katt, and Mama back behind me, I waited hopefully; and then ponderously, the wall in front of me swung protesting in toward me until it was open enough that I could slip through. Turning on the flashlight that I carried, I played the light around the opening and the cave beyond until I was sure there was nothing we could fall into. Soon we were at the entrance of the cave; and the wall was protesting as it swung back into place.
Jan 13, 2004.
It was barely light enough to see as I filled the feeders for the first time in months. Weeds were starting to grow around the bases of the posts that held them; and one was going to need some repairs before I could fill it. The woods felt empty like they had yesterday; and I wondered at that. Never before had they felt like this. I put the broken feeder in the cart to take it back to the feed shed and repair it. Pulling some of the larger weeds, the animals would take care of the rest as they returned, I piled them on top of the feed bins I had built into the cart to carry them back to the fire-pit for the next time we had a bonfire. I pruned a few branches that were encroaching into the area; and added them to the cart. This was going to be another warm day I thought as I headed back to the cabin for breakfast; and there was plenty to keep me busy outdoors.
Jan 13, 2004.
By late afternoon the pile of weeds, brush, and branches was as tall as my head and overflowing the fire-pit in all directions. The area around the cabin and it's outbuildings was neat and tidy again. The leaves had been raked into the flowerbeds to protect the already sprouting spring bulbs from the freezing temperatures we would still be getting; and it was well past time to take a break. I put all my tools in the cart, pulled it into the gardening shed, and headed for the kitchen to fix something for dinner. But my mind kept wandering to the cave we had found; and I wondered what it would be like at night. If I just grabbed the leftover roast and some bread and cheese we could get there before dark; but then we'd be stuck there all night. Mutt, Katt, and Mama were eager to go; so I sent Mutt to get the backpack while I got things out of the refrigerator. I had to see if it got dark in the cave and explore some more of it. The flashlights and extra batteries were already in the backpack; and I stuffed the food in on top of them, and then added two battery lanterns and an extra insulated shirt. It was heavy; but if we went straight to the cave it wouldn't be that far and I wouldn't have to carry the food back. Banking the fire for the night, I settled the backpack on my shoulders and closed the door behind us. I sure hoped I could find a way to open that door from the outside.
Jan 14, 2004.
The sun was setting as we reached the trail down to the cave yesterday evening; but fortunately the setting sun still shone brightly on the cliff face. It was an easy trail down to the ledge outside of the cave; but not one I would want to climb or descend in the dark. Two old and broken cedar trees clung to life on the cliff face just below the ledge, hiding the opening from the river below. A few yards beyond the ledge the trail ended in a chasm cut by a stream tumbling down to the river over eons of time. On the other side, I could see the trail continuing down with no way to reach it from this end. I wondered again if it went all the way to the river; and if a bridge had spanned the chasm at one time, giving access to the cave from below.
I was in no hurry now, knowing that we were safe on the ledge; and I stood gazing out over the river bottoms spread out below. The fields were bare after last falls harvest; and only one was in pasture. I could see tiny dots in it; but couldn't tell what animal was grazing there. The setting sun painted the few clouds on the horizon in brilliant shades of crimson and orange, edged with molten gold; and the cliff face reflected back the colors. Here and there another handful of ancient cedar trees sprouted from the cliff face. There were just enough of them to keep the ones that hid the cave from standing out and raising curiosity. The evening breeze started picking up; and it was almost completely dark as I turned away from the view and toward the cave. That was pretty dumb, I thought as I realized I couldn't see a thing and the flashlights were at the bottom of my backpack.
"We can still see," said Mutt; and I felt the ruff on his neck under my hand.
I grabbed a handful of fur; and let him slowly lead me into the cave, shuffling my feet carefully in my blindness. Before I could start wondering about the door into the interior, I heard rock grating on rock in protest. The pendant must have activated the door from a distance I thought; and then I could see a sliver of light that grew wider as we approached it. The light seemed extra bright after the darkness outside; and I stopped to listen for the door to close again before continuing down into the cavern. As I stepped into the cavern, the sudden relief at being able to see and all the work I'd done outside without stopping for lunch combined to make me realize how tired and hungry I was. I crossed to the nearest water basin, let the backpack slide to the grass, and sat down wearily.
I ate slowly, sharing the leftover roast, cheese, and crusty home made bread with my companions until we were full. We would share what was left for breakfast. I sat, sipping water from the basin and looking around for a while. The passage down from the cave was another spiral; but I thought it only made one complete revolution. It looked like the outside wall roughly followed the contours of the bluff. The vines continued on beyond the cave entrance; but the wall curved gently so I couldn't see how far they went. I decided to explore for a while before it got dark or I got too sleepy. Getting a flashlight and lantern out of the backpack, I turned the lantern on low and left it sitting on the planter. Taking just the flashlight, I started walking toward where the cavern bent out of sight. I passed several more sleeping rooms and another room with the bare floor before I could no longer look back and see the lantern and Mutt, who had decided that enough was enough for one day. The vines didn't seem as old on this end; and the last one was barely halfway to the ceiling. Beyond it were several more planters where the vines were just sprouting.
"This one is yours," Mama said, jumping up on the planter with the half grown vine in it.
"How do you know?" I asked her.
"Red told me," she replied.
"When? I didn't hear her."
"When you fell down. You couldn't hear." Mama answered; and I could feel a sadness in her.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked; but knew the answer before she could answer. The headaches must have kept me from hearing. I suddenly remembered how little they had communicated with me the last few days.
"This is your room," Katt said, disappearing into the alcove between the vine Mama had named as mine and the next one, only I couldn't pronounce the word she used for room.
I followed her in. It didn't look any different from all the others I had looked at; but it felt different. New. Never lived in. But maybe that was my imagination. Maybe I would get the backpack and sleep in here tonight. It was darker; and I would sleep better. I stepped back out and kept walking. The cavern was getting narrower as I passed several empty planters. Then it ended in two openings. I looked into the opening on the bluff side; and it led to a stairway going down. I walked back to the other opening; and it was a fairly straight passage curving farther back into the bluff. The lichen barely glowed here; and I snapped on the flashlight, watching the walls carefully for other openings. This was a long passage, with the sandy loam on the floor instead of the grass; and it kept curving to the left.
Just when I was about to turn back, the passage opened out into a nearly circular cavern as brightly lit by the lichen as the one with the vines. But there were no vines here. Instead, it was warm and humid and about the size of the grove. There were several pools of hot water with steps carved into their sides. A bath, I thought. Hot springs. I had never heard of any hot springs in this area; but as I reached down to feel the temperature of the water it was hot. Around the walls were more planting spaces and a few wide ledges. There were different plants here; more like herbs or something of the sort. Dozens of niches in the walls held bowls that might have been used as oil lamps. After just a few minutes, I started getting sleepy from the heat and humidity in the cavern. I looked at my watch; and it was only 8:30. Way too early for me to be this sleepy; but I had worked hard outside after months of mostly sitting. I could explore the other passage in the morning.
I went back to where I'd left the backpack; and carried it and the lantern to the alcove Mama had said was mine. I set the backpack on the ledge; and decided it would be much more comfortable on the grass. By now the light in the alcove was very dim; and I settled down on the grass with my extra jacket for a pillow. I could hear Mutt, Katt, and Mama settling down too; and I was asleep almost as soon as I turned off the flashlight.
I woke hours later to the feeling of someone calling me; but I was too tired to wake completely. I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning restlessly, too tired to wake and too pulled by something to sleep.
Jan 15, 2004.
I finally woke for good after what seemed like almost an eternity of being caught between the need to sleep and whatever was trying to rouse me. The light in the alcove had been barely enough for me to see the doorway when I was roused the first time; and I wondered if it had faded gradually and when it had gotten this dim. Checking my watch I saw it was 5:30. Outside the sun would be rising soon; and I wondered how long it would take it to get light in here. Mutt was still sleeping; but Katt and Mama were just returning from somewhere, hunting I imagined. They curled up on my jacket and were soon asleep, as at home here as they were in the cabin. Somehow this little room did feel like home to me too. Maybe I would leave all but one flashlight and the backpack here for future visits I thought. But for now I needed a place to relieve myself and some breakfast.
After Mutt and I shared the remaining food, I walked back to the other end of the cavern to make sure there weren't any other openings around the steps up to the altar; and there wasn't. As I started counting the planters on the way back for some way to estimate how long the cavern was, I noticed that the vine closest to the steps didn't look as healthy as the rest. Not counting the planters beyond mine with the little sprouts in them, there were 50 planters; and each was about eight feet wide. I looked at mine; and realized that it had grown a lot over night. I knelt down to touch the soil in the planter; and as I did the pendant swung forward and slipped into a matching depression. The result was instantaneous and shocking. It was similar to my bonding with the companions; but here there was no mind no matter how different. It was like an empty container into which my mind flowed until I was drained. I don't know how long I knelt there; but as suddenly as it happened, the pendant slipped out of the depression and released me. Mutt, Katt, and Mama were pressed up against me, supporting me; and I was deathly cold. They urged me to get up and move over to the next vine; and confused, I did as they bid.
As I knelt down in front of the planter next to mine, I vaguely felt a personality there. It was not as shocking this second time. This time I felt a kinship that was deeper than any I had ever felt before. I didn't understand the words; but I felt the emotions and looked through her eyes at her memories and knew things that now I can't remember. But I know they will come back to me as I begin to understand the ancient language.
I have no idea how long I knelt there, or when or how we came home to the cabin. I know it was two days ago that I became one of the Guardians; but right now time doesn't seem to make any sense. Mutt or Katt or Mama will tell me to eat and I will eat, or they will tell me to sleep and I will sleep. I know I should be doing things; but right now they just don't matter.
Jan 18, 2004.
As I began to assimilate the last Guardian's, Maron, memories and language the world around me began to register on my senses again; and I gradually became able to reason and feel again. I knew that I needed to do normal, daily things to aid me in retaining my sense of identity. I understood that my initiation into the Place of Remembering as a new Guardian was a difficult transition; and that I should have been in my alcove being aided and supported by other Guardians. However, there were no Guardians left to guide and support me. I was the first in such a long, long time. All I had was the essence of their lives recorded into the synapses of their Memory Tree. Briefly I wondered if I was to be the last also, then pushed that thought aside. For there to be another, I would have to complete this transition with only the help of my companions.
From Maron's memories I understood that the trees themselves were slowly dying, that the physical processes that kept them alive were waning as the rituals keeping the energy flowing between lichen and memory tree were no longer being performed. If there was ever to be another Guardian, I would have to reverse that decline. I would have to preserve a unique biological process that would otherwise be forever lost to man; and as I had readily vowed to protect this land when I first came here, now I vowed within myself to preserve this culture too.
It was a very ancient one, perhaps even older than the worship of the first gods. It knew nothing of kings and queens. It was built on cooperatively living in peace and harmony in and with the physical world around them. To each there fell a task that was uniquely valuable to the lives of the people; and the fewer there were to do a particular task, the greater the service and devotion that was required of them. I was becoming not a privileged priestess or princess but rather a humble historian and master gardener, for although there were some elements that resembled prayer in the rituals and chants, they were in reality celebrations of natural processes and events and recitations of historical events that educated and encouraged the people to whom they were sung.
I had so much to learn, so much to do; and the very first thing that needed doing was to prune back the oldest Memory Tree to its roots and return its elements to the soil from which they had been drawn. The smoke from it's burning would free necessary trace elements to be absorbed by the lichen on the guardian stones in the grove, enriching them while the old roots would continue to feed the lichen with which they were connected until the new tree was established to take its place. This I would do today although I knew it was too soon for me to attempt to assimilate another Guardian's memories. Yet it must be done today, or risk loosing them entirely if her tree died back on its own. There were ritual preparations and cleansings that should be done; but I hoped a shower and my will to do this thing would suffice. I was still too tired to do any more than that.
Jan 21, 2004.
As I worked in the Place of Remembering, caring for the Remembering Trees that had been so long without attention, my mind kept drifting back to the day I had begun to assimilate Maron's memories. I had known what I had to do; but had not understood why. Now I was beginning to understand the symbiotic relationship between Remembering Tree and lichen. The lichen drew trace elements from the Remembering Trees that were necessary for it to transfer energy. Without those elements, it was just another species of lichen; but with it, the lichen was able to colonize the veins of softer material in the guardian stone until they became conduits from the exterior world into the interior, passing the energy absorbed from the sun and moon from cell to cell until it reached the interior of the Place of Remembering where the majority of it was discharged as light. There the trace elements were absorbed from the roots of the Memory Trees where lichen and roots met on the interior wall or from the pheromones in the air that bathed the ceiling and outer wall. These trace elements were then passed back up to the outer lichen to allow them to continue to transfer photo electricity back to the lichen in the interior of the guardian stone to nourish them so they could flourish and continue the transfer. The light discharged by the lichen allowed the Remembering Trees to grow and flower in the controlled environment of the Place of Remembering, creating the trace elements the lichen needed for the energy transfer. The lichen could withstand the harsh cold of winter and the intense heat of summer; but the Remembering Trees could not. They would die back to their roots, causing the lichen in the interior of the guardian stone to die too; and if it was too cold for too long even the roots would die. It took years for the lichen to colonize a vein in the guardian stone; and the colonies would never penetrate all the way into the cavern without the year round sustenance from the Remembering Trees. Manon, the most recent Guardian, had not understood how this worked, only that it did; and that it must be preserved.
I stood up and back from my work to view it with a critical eye. All the dead stems and flowers had been pruned away and placed in the waste rooms for the grubs to eat. The dead and dying branches had been pruned away too and burned in the grove. I would burn the last bunch on my way to the cabin this afternoon. The trees looked healthier, more vigorous. The air smelled fresher somehow; and the grubs were working feverishly turning and enriching the soil in the waste rooms and the planters. I went to get a drink from the basin near my Remembering Tree. It had grown as tall as the ceiling over the last few days. I had not dared to even go near any of the depressions that mirrored the pendant; and wouldn't for quite a while yet. There was still too much I had not begun to assimilate. Yet I couldn't help but wonder how the symbiotic relationship had come about. Had it happened accidentally? Were these trees and lichen native to this area? How were human memories retained by the Remembering Trees? There were studies that showed that plants today reacted favorably to human touch and speech. A big clue seemed to exist in the ritual burning of dying Remembering Trees to release the trace elements into the air where the lichen could absorb them. That could have been done by the people to encourage the lichen to grow; but it seemed like it would take vast amounts of the trees. Had they once been that plentiful? Perhaps in a warmer age or climate where they could grow year round outside.
More clues were in the partial and faded memories of the oldest Guardian, Tashal, that I had received before I pruned back her dying Remembering Tree, releasing her memories forever. In them I saw scenes of light brown people living on the shore of a vast body of water, weaving and braiding things out of vines and grasses, clearing and planting fields, harvesting from forest and field, hunting and fishing, cutting stone in caves illuminated by light reflected off water. Carefully removing plants and more from tidal pools. There was feasting and storytelling, singing and dancing around bonfires under the moon, and always there were flowers and laughter. They were a bright and happy people. Yet each year the water rose higher, eating away at the beach, flooding the tidal pools from which they harvested what? And each year the number of people in the community decreased, yet there was no feeling of sadness. Where had they gone? Why?
I pushed these thoughts and questions away. For now I had other work to do too, my own life and work to continue if I hoped to preserve this place. Carefully, I cleaned my tools and put them away in my alcove. The sleeping bag and extra jacket were neatly folded, flashlights, lanterns, and batteries sat neatly on the shelf next to the tools. Paper and pen lay ready though I had written nothing yet. I smiled, and left the alcove, calling to Mutt, Katt, and Mama that it was time to leave. Picking up the last bundle of branches to be burned, we left the Place of Remembering.
Feb 8, 2004.
Finally the cycle of rain then snow or sleet and more rain released its grip on the cabin and its surrounding woods for a day. Since returning from the Place of Remembering, it had rained or snowed every day, keeping us shut up in the cabin except for quick trips to fill the feeders. But today dawned bright and sunny; and we all hurried out of the cabin after breakfast to enjoy the sunshine. I wandered around the clearing looking for signs of spring. There were fresh castings under the cedar tree on the far side of the pond where an owl had been roosting; and I smiled thinking how I enjoyed their hooting at night and how they would help keep the rodent population down. Not far away there was a break in the berm that kept the runoff from the hill out of the pond, perhaps from something digging there. I quickly scraped the dirt back up with my boots; and tramped wet leaves down on it to keep it from washing again until I could fix it more permanently after the spring thaw. The daffodils on the west end of the pond were growing as were the hyacinth in front of the retaining wall. Both were now peeking out of the melting snow and ice. And in every sheltered spot around the cabin that received the western sunlight I could lift the protecting cover of dead leaves to find crocus, miniature daffodils, or snow drops just starting to emerge.
We wandered farther from the cabin, Mutt bounding after every rabbit and squirrel he saw, while Katt and Mama tried to avoid stepping anywhere that was wet. In the nearby meadow, there were fresh tracks that I hoped had been made by the fox that used to live there, or another of her kind, while down by the swimming hole in the creek I found the largest antler I had ever seen in these woods. What a sight that would have been to see it's wearer last fall, I thought; and wondered if I would see him this year.
We walked up the creek to the large stone slab that spanned it at it's narrowest point. This was not the same kind of stone from which the Guardian stones were carved. However, I had no doubt that it had been set in this place by the people when they first came here as a bridge. Many other stones had been set in place to support and protect it from the waters flow when the creek flooded. On the other side of the bridge a path was defined and protected by small guardian stones. I wondered again why I hadn't found this crossing until right after I entered the Place of Remembering. From it's direction I thought it would lead to the altar clearing; but until today the weather had kept us from crossing the rock bridge. Now we could cross and follow the new path that despite the cold and snow was green and snow free. In just a few minutes we emerged in the clearing I had expected to; but what a change! The brush and thickets that had grown up around it had thinned and no longer kept it hidden. The sun shown brightly on grass that had grown green despite the weather the last three weeks; and the first signs of green were showing in the planter boxes between the sets of steps. Warmth seemed to radiate from the Guardian stones and fill the clearing. The path skirted the clearing behind the Guardian stones and continued on toward the bluff. From the angle of the sun, it would soon start going down; and I turned around to return to the cabin.
As I walked I began thinking about tonight. I had not been able to see the full moon Friday night or last night; but I had felt its pull. Tonight I would be able to see its beauty in the cold winter sky and watch its light glittering off the snow and ice.
Feb 09, 2004.
I sat back from the computer and stretched, needing a break from my research. As I looked out the window, my mind drifted back to last night.
Intending only to watch the moon from the fire circle in front of the cabin, I took nothing outside with me. Yet I found myself walking past the pond and continuing on into the darkness of the woods beyond. I stumbled over something I couldn't see in the darkness, almost falling; and reached out to my companions. Mutt waited to walk beside me so I could steady myself against him. Through Katt and Mama's eyes, I could see the path as if it were merely a cloudy day instead of full dark. It was still a difficult walk because I was seeing the path from a point several feet in front of me and well below my normal line of vision. Yet I never considered turning back. Not once did it occur to me to wonder what I was doing or why. It was simply time to prepare. I was relieved to finally reach the bridge. On the other side the path was smooth and soft, the small stones set along it cast a soft illumination that let me walk with ease.
Soon I was in the bath chamber where I was guided by Maron and Tashal's memories through the ritual bath and preparations. And then I was ready. I wore only a simple green tunic and a headband of a green material around which I wound sprays of flowers from my remembering tree. I had found the tunic and several more garments in a waterproof chest in the lower chambers; and brought one to my chamber. The heavy silver chain and pendant gleamed in the soft light of the Place of Remembering. Barefooted, I climbed the steps beneath the altar and started down the path to the grove, my feet already moving to the measured beat of the drums that I could faintly hear. Warmth radiated up from the path, the night was still, and the fragrance from the flowers enveloped me. Almost in a trance, I stepped into the grove. Through Maron's memories I could see the people already gathered there, waiting for me. As I began the first song, I held the pendant up to the moon. The moonlight enveloped it, filled it; and the stone began to glow until it almost blazed with white light. The silver chain gleamed, the runes carved on its links stood out in dark relief. The people quieted, their eyes riveted on the pendant, as I sang. I could feel the harmony as they listened to the familiar words that were old even in their time.
Shaking my head, I pulled my mind back to the task at hand. I had to find the right people.
A Walk | Kitty Cat | The Bluff | The Pond | 911
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