I’ve found a backdoor where we can skip the names that keep things small. This door is worn and rusty. Its hinges screech only halfway – not heard or seen where the sun flirts the land bright-eyed in promise of comfortable becoming, but at night, and under, where the creatures are belly to the earth and amorphous. Where one’s senses become heightened by the thick presence of mystery, and hairs stand on end with the holy.
The door is so ancient it has been swallowed by the landscape around it. To see it you must offer yourself first to the rhythmic swirl of earth where you too will be humbled by the elements that hold shape and structure and allow it to flux and change both.
Behind the door I found the moose skull in a circle of dead cottonwood trees, bleached white from the sun – the skull and the trees both. In the eye socket a tiny purple Pacific Aster gazed yellow and piercing… like the wolves here. The skull had been watching me with its flower eyes as I came upon the circle, so stark in death amidst life that it pulled off the impossible task of disappearing in plain sight, and I had to look twice to see. It had been watching me as I danced for those great mountains, whose peaks, regal and dangerous, rose out of the lakes like a rough Aphrodite.
I placed my hand on the skull. The dome of bone sloped up and over, ridge-like, to fit just-so in the trembling hollow of my palm.
I heard a noise behind me and my blood rose. At the edge of the river on the far bank appeared an adult female moose, brethren to the calcified one under my hand. All legs and nose, she was breathtaking in her ironic delicacy, combing the water’s edge for reeds and roots. A riparian beast built like rickety geometries; all vertices and lines and angular slopes, but moving like water, as she has learned to do in her apprenticeship over the years.
Her apparition felt important. The purple flower in the eye socket wavered its consent and from then forth, I carried that skull with me as I wandered the land picking up pieces of me where they lay.
It was in this place of wildflower and wolf song that I was bestowed a task I cannot name well. It slipped into my bones through a hole in my heart, so well guarded I had long forgotten it was there. The way the waters offered themselves in oxbow bends and suck-you-under baptismal currents began to soften the lion I kept inside. And maybe for the first time ever the grief and the rage loosed from their paddock to tumble through the cob-webbed corridors of my body… like the wild and holy emissaries they are. I awakened to my living ache with a moose-mirrored vow – awkward, and awe-full.
And now, back inside these four walls, woven into the urban wilderness that many of us call home I need to return to the door more regularly to remember…
To keep my toes in the dark current.
To place my hand on that warm bone again.
There is a tension in the tasks we are moved to live for. I’m talking about the real tasks that, as Rilke said, come up from the “deep place from which your life flows,” that you cannot ignore. These are the tasks that ask you to lay down your small largeness and assume the form of the eternal, inky black with promise. They are the ones calling out to you from behind hidden doorways and in signs and symbols placed just-so like flower eyes in bone sockets and watery moose movements.
These are the tasks that cannot really be explained or ever completed but in whose courtship burgeons a vitality and purpose unimaginable until tasted, radical on the palate, and alluringly dangerous like snow-shrouded mountains at dawn, or the rush of river over moss rock.
I am learning that full living happens in the tension of what is seen and offered, touchable and tangible on the outside for our people, and what is hidden and dangerous, wraith-like, slippery with ecstasy, on the inside.
I am tasked with holding this tension.
And staying true to it. A woman arguably ruined by the knowing of a radically inhabited life. And all I can do is be with the task and sit in silence and smile a small smile when the crows start up outside my window in raucous choirs and do my best to let myself feel unbearably awake. It is the path of the untamed, hole-riddled heart.
If I know one thing I know this… and you will know it too when it is your time; some of us are not content to fall asleep while the world, in its wild way, dances on.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends Llewellyn’s 2016 Moon Sign Book: Conscious Living by the Cycles of the Moon (Llewellyn’s Moon Sign Books).
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