(Photography by Joy Houck Bauer)
“They say Aslan is on the move.” The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis has enthralled me ever since I was 9 and read the Puffin book with its pen and ink illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Many generations of children have loved the secret world filled with unconventional and magical creatures, and the young heroines and heroes who are neither patronized nor belittled. I too loved Narnia, every thicket and lamppost, faun, centaur, and dryad. I loved how in the story subtle sounds and shifts in the air foretold the approach of the yet unseen Aslan and the breaking of the Witch’s spell.
Outside our small cottage at Rolling Ridge, birdsong cascades from bare branches in a symphony of trills, chirps, warbles, and tiny whistles. Deer Spring Creek babbles over its bed, submerging the steppingstones, and our spring house overflow is gushing. The bluebells are blooming by the river. It is possible to glimpse the red-breasted grosbeak once more in the thicket and the wood thrush exploring the ground grasses. The majestic, jagged willow stump has sent up long, feathery fronds. Days ago Luke saw bear prints near the power line, close to the ridge.
Something is on the move.
The weather is mercurial. A week after Easter, it snowed. Days later it was 80 degrees, with a gusty, hot breeze. This morning a few of us were in the garden planting potatoes before the forecast rainstorm. The wind whipped across the lettuce beds we had planted the day before and turned over the empty seed potato box. Indigo thunderheads loitered over the ridge on the east, while the horizon on the west turned an ominous rosy gray. Midway through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy learns, and later the children remember, the nature of the Lion come to release Narnia from the grip of the White Witch:
“…if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe….”
“He’ll be coming and going” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down…. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
We live in a turbulent time in nature, culture, and governance, in which the constructs we imagined were solid have crumbled. Unpredictability is in the air, and nothing is stable. In a recent Friends of Silence staff meeting, we talked about the anxiety we have turning on the news, the uneasy, sleepless nights, the dread and compulsion we have to check our cell phones.
Yet something powerful and hopeful, though untamed and not at all safe, is on the move. Michael Meade writes, “…something deep in the soul of humanity responds to a great crisis. Great disasters and impossible tasks often provoke hidden resources and reveal hints of the underlying wholeness and unity of life; but only if we are willing to suffer the conflict until a new level of understanding dawns.”
We walk around in a riot of birdsong, greening thorn bushes, and muddy rivulets. One day a stunning, iridescent green insect appeared on the boards that had been laid over the swampy creek bottom. We turned over a log near the old garden shack, and a red-striped salamander presented itself like a small jewel. There’s no telling what may be revealed, and when.
Instability and chaos may be the prelude to resiliency, inspiration, and the opening to a fierce grace. I once heard an interview with activist Rebecca Solnit in which she said, “…Hope, for me, means a…sense of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what will happen, and that there’s maybe room for us to intervene…. ”
One recent night, in celebration of the summer-like temperatures, Scot invited everyone to a barbecue. He built a fire that took considerable skill to keep alight in the wind. We gathered after a day of planting, wood work, and walking among the bluebells to relax and enjoy one another’s company. The children played in their swimsuits and sundresses in the evening light. Simple times of connection are harbors, safe spaces out of the storm in which to anchor ourselves. We live into our relationships with others, or connect within to the silence, or listen to the breathing Earth, or do all of these things. In these moments the drumbeat of anxiety is muffled and we can hear the soft footfalls of our own surprising, wild-ish nature and imagine our piece to play in the breaking of the spell and the reclaiming of the world.