Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Hidden Mouth

If you'd like to see larger versions of the photos included in this essay, just click on them.

The last time I went looking for dragons, and wrote of it here, it was early spring. There was a sense of decayed things emerging, then being overgrown, sublimated into green watercress. This time it's winter, things are buried.
The snow has come. It came late this year, the time between leaf-fall and snow-fall lingered until it seemed familiar, the way things might stay. When the snow did come, it came howling in sideways, preceded by ice and water. It ripped through powerlines breaking them and our little house was without electricity for twenty five hours. Not before I went out into the storm though. Into the forest which shivered and stilled, leaned away from the gale and caught snow in lines up the north east side of its trunks.

When the storm was over it had left winter behind it, gentler snow falls came in its wake.

Now I walk up the path through the forest to the dark place between the hills.

This is the day before the longest night and even in the early afternoon as I walk into the forest, the light dims. Snow has made the familiar path strange. Ahead, a set of tracks emerge and run straight up the white trail. They are big, the length of my palm. The wolf's cousin has been this way.

Eastern coyotes are as big as wolves but different. They combine the jackal nature of the smaller western coyote with the size of the grey wolves they interbred with and replaced as they colonized this region.

I walk on, following half-wolf tracks in the snow. It's like a pencil drawing, shaded with sketchy lines, all white and grey and black. Then a sudden shock of colour-- a pool filled with water-weeds like green fire.

I walk along the steep hillside looking down into powdered tree sketched dells.  I come to the hidden mouth. Trees have fallen down the bank and now grow sideways obscuring the entrance, but I can see a hint of darkness behind them. A breath of earthy air touches my nostrils and cheeks as I approach, careful not to let my feet break through the snow covered branches. I don't want to fall in the brook.

Under the branches, through a screen of trees, the ravine opens up, hung with ice and running back into the place between hills. It gurgles water over brown pebbles and under snow covered fallen trees.

I climb into the dark space, look up with feet planted on either side of the narrow crack, water below me. High above, trees zigzag towards the sky.

A pile of fallen roots in the dimness looks like it might hide some shadowy tentacled thing, drawing unwary prey towards it with water gurgles and icicle light.

By now it's getting dark and when I return to my workshop I have to turn the lights on to work.

On my table are my design tools, pencils, vellum, compass and calipers, and a sword blade. I'm trying out using the system of geometry that my friend Peter Johnsson discovered to help define the proportions of a sword hilt, but I'll tell you about that in more detail in a later post. For now I can be thankful that I made it back safe and dry from my excursion. My pencil scratches vellum in the warm lamp light and the wind howls through a crack and spatters snow against the dark window.