Tuesday, March 25, 2014
How many truly magical moments have you had in your life? I don't mean special moments like seeing your child for the first time, things that many of us have in common. I'm talking about events that stand out as something relatively few people have experienced.
I was lucky because I once lived in magical place. It was on the very edge of state park property. A non-maintained gravel road, humpbacked and potholed, ambled through it. All the houses had been torn down long before but there were still some teetering foundations surrounded by peonies and soaring lilac bushes and giant thickets of rambling rose. Mostly, the land had reverted to woods but there were areas of what was one-time pasture and Wildlife Management planted rows of corn here and there for the deer and other wildlife.
We walked that road often and discovered something pleasing nearly every time - a magnificent white owl that flew directly in front of us, a nest of curious baby raccoons peeking out of their hole high in a tree, a small meadow filled with spring morels, like unexpected treasure.
We had two dogs then - a black lab named Shadow and an Irish setter named Copper. They were friendly but there was an element of competitiveness to their relationship too. When we walked the road, they each took a side and didn't encroach on one another's territory. Copper was a silent dog, like a red wraith slipping through the trees. Meanwhile Shadow (who wasn't like a shadow at all) crashed through the underbrush on his side, yelping as he went. One day, we heard him whining and went to check. He had discovered a tiny spotted fawn curled up at the base of a tree, surrounded by shrubs. It looked at him with melting brown eyes and seemed not at all frightened by the slobbering giant confronting him. We called the dog off. "Come on, Shadow, Mama Deer knows where it is."
But two particular incidents stand out from that time.
In the first, we were taking our walk near evening. It was still light but the sun was setting. My husband and I both sensed that there was something different about the woods but at first, we couldn't put our finger on what it was. As we looked around, we began to notice that there were monarch butterflies on the underside of every leaf. They hung down with their wings closed, not just a few but thousands of them, maybe even millions. As far as we could see in all directions, they clustered, perhaps five or six per leaf on trees and bushes. Our piece of magical property was evidently on their migration route. By the next morning, they were gone, disappeared so silently, it was hard to believe we hadn't imagined the whole thing.
The second time, Mother Nature made me catch my breath in wonder, it was autumn. My husband had walked over to the side of the road and noticed a cluster of ladybugs scurrying to get under a loose rock. When he lifted the large stone, there was a mass of brilliant red, black dotted ladybugs beneath it, gathered together, in preparation for hibernation. Evidently the ones outside were the latecomers who had dallied awhile before deciding to go to bed for the winter. Again, I can't really say how many there were but if they had been M&Ms, they probably would have filled a 20 pound bag, at least.
I haven't seen any of those tiny crimson, black-dotted ladybugs in years, not since the nasty orange Asian beetles we have now took over.
Incidentally, the lady in lady bug stands for the Virgin Mary. In Europe in the Middle Ages, farmers were losing their crops to an infestation of insects. They prayed for assistance from heaven and lo and behold, they began to notice the arrival of clouds of ladybugs that began eating the crop destroyers. They named their rescuers in honor of Mary.
My third magical moment happened in a different time and place. We lived on a small farm. The people who owned the property across the road rented it to a horse trader. Over time, there were appaloosas and sturdy quarter horses and tall slender thoroughbreds and pinto ponies, there were Shetlands and Belgian draft horses. There were geldings and mares with colts and an occasional stallion.
The horse trader allowed a teenage boy, who I was told was part Indian, to ride the horses. (I can't imagine any businessman taking on that kind of liability now as the horses rotated in and out so quickly, he couldn't have known much about their temperament). The kid must have been a natural horseman. He hopped on them all, riding them without a saddle, only a rope bridle looped around their nose.
There was a homely red barn, a wide creek and a small pasture directly across from us. At one end, a high hill rose with a gravel road that went back to a pond.
I was sitting on my porch swing one morning when I heard a yell. I looked up to see a galloping sorrel horse come plunging down the hill with the boy on his back, unmoving, as if he was glued to the animal. He was tan and slender. He wore blue jeans and no shirt. His long black hair flew behind him as did the horse's black mane and tail. The horse was still running full tilt, when he reached the bottom of the hill and splashed through the creek. The boy raised his arms and let out an exultant cry.
I remember thinking I wished I had a picture of that scene. It was the purest example of the joy of freedom I ever saw and it made my heart sing.
Back in those days, there were no cell phones with cameras so I have no pictures of my magical moments but millions of monarch butterflies and an enormous mound of scarlet ladybugs and a long-haired boy flying on a sorrel horse are imprinted in my memory even without pictures.