Refraction

The bridge across the creek isn’t picturesque. It’s built from chalk-grey metal, with traffic barriers for handrails and fencing angling down to the bank on each side. Water rushes under industrial grating. Downstream to the north, the flow widens slightly between the bottleneck of the bridge and a natural dam of fallen trees.

It’s a bright day and I’m leaning against the hot metal. Once, two or three years ago, I came here and saw a blue heron hunting in the pool. Today the place feels abandoned except for flies. The wetland has flooded recently, and tire marks rut the trail where debris has been shoveled and compacted by maintenance trucks. It’s all baked to beige now in the heat, but the smell lingers, saturation edging toward rot.

I’ve come to this wildlife refuge hoping to feel moved, or enchanted, or revitalized. All summer I’ve been dogged by a sense of numbness, jangling but dead like a sleeping limb. Now that I’m out here, I’m disillusioned by the emptiness and by the closeness of the city, airbrushed out in my memory. A high-rise condo peers over the western tree line. But the swollen creek is louder than the occasional roar of planes descending toward the airport two miles away, so I stand on the bridge, staring down at blankly dark ripples of water.

The first fish appears like the key to a code. I catch a glimpse of movement, something large holding position against the current. Nearby, I see the flash of a belly – and then, suddenly, dozens and hundreds of fish, their mud-brown silhouettes revealed between one breath and the next with the snap of a magic trick.

Some are small and narrow as my hand, darting in the rolling, glossy camouflage of refracted sunlight. Others are long as my forearm, slipping slow and heavy through deeper water. Below my feet is a full array of life and presence, where for long minutes I could only see murk. If I hadn’t stayed still long enough to break the concealing glamour of my expectations, I wouldn’t have noticed anything at all.

After a while, I move to the edge of the trail and crouch on a swath of dried muck. Flies feather across my legs and crawl over the flaking tire tracks. An airplane passes overhead, followed by the shadow of a vulture. I sit in the emptiness, counting fish, and practice seeing what’s beneath the surface.

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Serpent dreams

I have an essay up this week on the Humanistic Paganism blog; it’s about myth, deity, naturalism, and snakes (sort of).

I never thought much about snakes, symbolically or literally, until I started reading about Brigid. Three years ago I came back to mythology and religion after nearly a decade of default atheism. I’d been reading some ancient philosophy, which bled into ancient religious culture, which brought up old interests in the occult and Paganism. My studies weren’t initially driven by a desire to reject atheism. The fascination was emerging from a part of me where atheism—or more specifically, materialism—was just beside the point.

This is the part of me responsible for weird dreams that feel true, for thoughts more accurately captured by symbols than by sentences. It’s the part of me that thrives on the fertile tension between what can be experienced and what can be proven.

The full essay is here.

It’s another dark moon and I’m cranky as fuck

Last month I wrote about dark moons, witchy culture, and awkward feelings over on the Little Red Tarot blog.

Lately, whenever the moon is dark, I don’t feel like doing ritual or reading cards or making magic.

Mostly I just feel cranky as fuck…

Here’s what I’ve decided, from the tidal depths of my crankiness: I’m not cutting cords anymore. I’m not holding strips of paper to the flame, hoping to turn my anxieties into ash.

Take in the full curmudgeonly glory here, no cleansing spell required.