I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.
The real protagonist of the story, however, is the magic ring, because it is the movements of the ring that determine those of the characters and because it is the ring that establishes the relationships between them. Around the magic object there forms a kind of force field that is in fact the territory of the story itself. We might say that the magic object is an outward and visible sign that reveals the connection between people or between events. . . We might even say that in a narrative any object is always magic.
Apart from such visits, for the first time in her life Eliza was truly alone. In the beginning, unfamiliar sounds, nocturnal sounds, disturbed her, but as the days passed she came to know them: soft-pawed animals under the eaves, the ticking of the warming range, floorboards shivering in the cooling nights. And there were unexpected benefits to her solitary life: alone in the cottage, Eliza discovered that the characters from her fairy tales became bolder. She found fairies playing in the spiders’ webs, insects whispering incantations on the windowsills, fire sprites spitting and hissing in the range. Sometimes in the afternoons, Eliza would sit on the rocking chair listening to them. And late at night, when they were all asleep, she would spin their stories into her own tales.
― Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
The sea rose invisibly beneath us and the moon shone smooth and bright. A glossy flute of light, like velvet down a bridal aisle, lit the marlin scales and the backs of whales migrating a hundred miles at sea. The tides surged through the marsh and each wave that hit the beach came light-struck and broad-shouldered, with all the raw power the moon could bestow. Magically, an hour passed and we, ocean dancers and tide challengers, found ourselves listening to the sea directly beneath us as the waves began to crash in earnest against the house.
Come, faeries, take me out of this dull house!
Let me have all the freedom I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
—W.B. Yeats, “The Land of Heart’s Desire,” 1894
Image: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing. William Blake, 1786
“It’s the shape of the stories that matters, the way belief forms around it. The story has real weight,” He pointed at himself. “Patupaiarehe look like monsters in some stories, but they’re beautiful in a lot. I guess people believed more in the beautiful version. And the ideal of beauty changes. If I’d been born two hundred years ago, I bet I wouldn’t look like this. The stories shaped me. They shape everyone, inside and out, but me more than most, because I’m magic.”
I know that the best time to see them is in that perfect hour before sunset when the sun sinks low on the horizon like a ripe peach and sends shafts of gold bursting through the trees. The “in between,” I call it. No longer day, not yet night; some other place and time when magic hangs in the air and the light plays tricks on the eye. You might easily miss the flash of violet and emerald, but I- according to my teacher, Mrs. Hogan- am “a curiously observant child.” I see their misty forms among the flowers and leaves. I know my patience will be rewarded if I watch and listen, if I believe.
But is the unicorn a falsehood? It’s the sweetest of animals and a noble symbol. It stands for Christ and for chastity; it can be captured only by setting a virgin in the forest, so that the animal, catching her most chaste odor, will go and lay its head in her lap, offering itself as prey to the hunters’ snares.”
“So it is said, Adso. But many tend to believe that it’s a fable, an invention of the pagans.”
“What a disappointment,” I said. “I would have liked to encounter one, crossing a wood. Otherwise what’s the pleasure of crossing a wood?”
This week I am sharing a series of photos which I took at our campfire near Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado last June. Looking at them, I not only remember a beautiful, cool summer night at just over 8,000 feet in elevation, but I enjoy making out figures and creatures in the flames. These images are like catnip for my imagination; I hope you enjoy them too!
#1: Twilight: Jupiter and Venus Approach
Night falls like a cloudy blanket while the bright planets preside, named for ancient gods of power and love. My husband wants to douse our firewood with lighter fluid but I, raised in the country, long for a steadier, prettier blaze that doesn’t stink of chemicals. The mountain air is already forgetting its moisture; I remember making fire. The local fire imps are not pretentious; a few matches and some dry wood are enough for their escapades.
#2: He Wore a Stovepipe Hat
Our first friendly imp appears wearing a stovepipe hat, his left hand flashing a peace sign- or is he making a fire bunny? No, it is only his pet snail. Dressed as he is, this dapper guest must be Uncle Sam or Honest Abe or else the duplicitous Cat in the Hat. And who was the surly rogue who fired a shot through his tall chapeau?
#3 Have a Seat
This one is asking for you, this dark skinned prince in a white tunic and headscarf. Nonchalant, he sits in the fire pit, sipping a very dry and spicy martini. While you hesitate, he becomes a gleaming prairie dog sitting before a cash register. “Are you going to pay up?” he chirps. All this talk of payment reminds me too much of Mephistopheles. Such an imp surely puts on airs.
#4 The Boy Made of Wood
Here’s a boy made of wood, his face smudged with ash and his nose lengthening suspiciously as he points into the distance, as if to blame some other soul for his mischievous handiwork. What lies has this rakish Pinocchio told tonight? Will there be more?
Soft boyish cheeks melt into air, revealing a shining, shapeshifting soul. Puck, your tail is showing!
The last deep colors of sunset conjure forth a molten geisha, lovely and untouchable. Her beauty appears delicate, but she would burn you without remorse.
Did you see something different? I’d love to know! I’ll have more fire imps for you soon!