If a forest is a metaphor for the unknown, a drawing is the stroke-by-stroke journey through the unknown: a laying this in, a wiping that out, all the time watching for the image to take shape and lead you into its very specific story. The image begins to give itself to you; you follow it, you serve it. Hence the kinship of making and prayer manifests, with each evoking and shaping the other, creating images which walk right out of the emptiness which has contained them. – Meinrad Craighead
This is the season of retreat, of the turning in to spirit and to healing in the quiet and the long nights. This is the time I ebb away from the regular world into my interior space, that hut in the woods where the fire—smelling of the dark honey of peat—burns brightly through the long nights. This is the space into which I go as the Winter Crone breathes her frosted breath upon my windows, and knocks at my door with her ancient, wrinkled hands. By this fire I pick up my stitchery (not of the physical sort, I am without talent in that area) the knitting, crocheting, the sewing together of blocks to make a full quilt, decorated with pearls and ivy leaves, with barley sheaves and moonlight. Each stitch a word, a row a sentence, a block a paragraph, the end of a ball of wool—a scene entire. I feel like the characters draw close to the fire as well, sit down, and tell me their stories on a deeper level, threads of both black and gold, bright jewelled bits of detail scattered here and there. Pamela with a hot cup of tea and a shawl— because she is never warm in winter, Yevgena whose tea smells of plum brandy, and whose eyes could tell you the history of the world from before the first light. Jamie, quiet, reflective, but with a glimmer in his eyes which informs you that a wonderful tale is lurking in the near future. Casey with his hands in the air, as he describes something in detail—a house, a fairy tale castle, a cottage he repaired where an old woman lives hidden in the forest. And all around the sound of children breathing and dreaming in the depths of night and firelight.
In some ways a series is different than the construction of a single book. While there is still the unknown at the beginning of each segment, it’s more like one of those books with hollow pages, where with the turn of each leaf a little more of the final page—the full scene—is revealed. With this series I am nearing the end of that lovely book, turning the last few pages to see the full picture revealed. This book has a strange feel to it, both one of ending and beginning (still not entirely sure it’s the last book, but it’s the penultimate one at the very least). I’ve said before that each book is an element for me, and if spring was an element, that’s what this one would be. And then, of course, there is Yevgena’s story, which is truly a caravan traveling along a neverending and windy road—sometimes a brilliantly coloured road—all reds and purples and vivid greens, sometimes so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face, nor the traces of your spirit.
I always thought it would be wonderful to be a painter. My dad painted when I was little, and linseed oil is still one of my favourite scents in the whole world. I love how paint feels and the way it builds slowly, slowly into something so much bigger than its component parts. Writing is not so different though, one just uses words rather than paint to layer, to create detail, to make a world entire where one did not exist before. Finding those images which walk out of the emptiness, and people a landscape we didn’t know before.
In the winter I think it is natural for all creatures—including humans—to turn inward, to go underground as it were, to turn our faces from the busy, roaring world and find peace, find rest, find the fire that burns inside but needs quiet for its heat to be felt. This is the hearth upon which creative forces are built to last out the rest of the year. It is the season written in darkness and the ink of pearls, which shines with a luminous subtlety. We need slowness, thoughtfulness, meditation to see something both hidden and pale in its beauty.
This is the season when my book will go from pieces, chapters, chunks into something more streamlined—I know because I feel the exact bulk of where it is now at— and it will begin to actually resemble a cohesive book that someone will one day be able to read, and hopefully love. And so I will retreat, turn my face away, go underground and sit by the fire in that cottage in the forest, and find those images which walk out of emptiness, to people a world entire.
Sometimes it feels like all the magic is gone from the world, there is so much strife and pain that it’s easy to feel helpless and small in the presence of so much that is heartbreaking. I ask myself at times what I can do in the face of all this, and in truth there are a lot of small things I can do and one is to make a little escape for people, give them a refuge where they can hole up for a few days, before facing the world again. And some days, that is enough—to provide that escape.
Winter with her great frosted moons, her brilliance, her quiet, her utter stillness reminds me that there are old enchantments lurking at the edges of our vision, but we need to awaken them and bring them back full and breathing, so they can remind us that we are magic, that life itself is magic. It is a part of my job, to walk those edge places, be they hedgerow or heath, forest or tide line, and find the still, small enchantments that wait there, and make them into quilt blocks, and word paintings, travel-weary caravans and the conversation of friends around an ancient fire. It is a liminal space, both haunted and visceral, this territory of the storyteller.
‘The vardo was warm when I went back in, but I was chilled and got into the bed swiftly, relishing the rough linen of the blankets and the luxurious warmth of the quilt. I was tired but could not settle, and it seemed Zuza sensed my restlessness for she spoke then.
“Would you like me to tell you a story?”
“I’m not a baby,” I said, a little indignant, though there was part of me which longed for a story from this woman’s lips.
“Child, a body is never too old for a story. I love a story, if it is told right. Now, would you like a story?”
When she began, her voice changed and became something other, like an ephemeral body with a foot in this world, and the other in the world of the tale. It was a trait I found in every gifted storyteller I ran across in my life, this ability to inhabit two places at once.’
Fr. The Long Road copyright 2017 Cindy Brandner