In early October I rambled the woodlands of western Massachusetts, and came across a blackened, vernal pool. It looked for all the world as if it had sprung full blown out of the pages of a book of Russian fairy tales. I half-expected Baba Yaga to peek out through the leaves, and kept one eye out for her as I slowed my breathing and stilled my mind.
This particular pond appears every spring and is usually dry ground by fall. But because of the unusually wet summer, it lasted long into the dying season. On this rainy day, it took on the persona of the Old One, the Wild One, its body a portal to the Realms Below. I felt a bit like Persephone standing at the gates of the Underworld, and yet a sense of deep peace and joy filled my heart. I batted away persistent mosquitoes, recognizing them as a metaphor for the distractions of daily life that keep us away from accessing this place of peace.
I gazed at the pool, inhaling raindrops, noticing the depth of layers, seen and unseen . . .
Above the water . . .
On the water . . .
Under the water . . .
Falling into the water . . .
Concentric circles rippling out . . .
And I realized I was being nurtured by death and dying, a gift of this out-of-season vernal pool. Our summer in the Northwest had been very short, and I had been dreading the onset of autumn and winter. Here, in this Northeastern place, I made my peace with with the Dying Season.
The aroma of burning sage wafted towards me as I made my farewells and prepared to leave. I turned back to bow once more to the pool. The scent of sage meant another pilgrim was nearby, honoring the woodland, the death and the decay.
And so I also honor the Old One. Namaste.
Artwork: Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin, circa 1899
(Note: I led two workshops this October on “Connecting with Mama Gaia” — one at Arcadia Wildllife Sanctuary in Easthampton, Massachusetts, where this encounter took place. The other one was part of the Gaian Tarot Retreat in southern Ontario, Canada. James Wells wrote a beautiful post here about his experience of the Retreat, and Donnaleigh de la Rose wrote a moving post about her encounter with a chickadee in these same Massachusetts woods.)