There is one more story waiting to be told of my time in British Columbia. After visiting Honey Grove, and meeting new friends, and the magic of bees, I travelled back down the island to Victoria to visit one of my oldest friends and her mother and grandmother. Three beautiful generations of Danish, and Danish-American, women. We walked in the old wet troll-sung woods of Sooke, which were dark and lush and made me think of the woods of northern European fairytales, at once dangerous and deeply mystical, where trolls and elk and wayward maidens loose and find their ways.
A young cedar grew her roots like a many fingered hand, like a dripping candle, over the old grandmother stump of an old-growth tree. Root-magic, dirt and earth-magic, these are the purview of the troll-folk, who I see, in my own imagination, as the decomposers of the forest, not Evil, but actually very regenerative, and fascinated with new blooming flowers, new needles on the tips of trees, as much as the underground.
|John Bauer, 1913|
The big-leaf maples lived up to their name, bigger than our faces, great boats of leaves.
The moss and sword ferns sang out their damp songs into the thin October light.
|Princess Tuvstarr and the Fishpond, 1913, John Bauer|
The mushrooms adored this stretch of wet wood, like troll-altars, these bursts of fruit from the great networks of the underground mycelium, connecting each tree, so that they may all share minerals, and sugars, and their own stored sunbeams, through the ground.
I met a new species of huckleberry, the red variety, which you can see here growing tenaciously from the top of this old cedar stump, with a cavern quite big enough for all manner of underworldly creatures to dwell in.
|Trolls and the Princess Tuvstarr, 1915, John Bauer|
The path led us to a sheltered ocean cove, guarded by the graceful creamy alders.
Where we basked in the cool golden sun, golden as the hair of those northern maidens from old tales.
We gathered shells and rocks and examined the seaweeds.
We found grass growing on the tops of ocean-side stones, and wild rosehips, and the canes of thimbleberries, and the salt-reaching branches of the alders.
A speckled seal came very close to the shore, within a few feet of a log where Elsinore and I lounged and stretched like cats, peering at us, curious, hidden within the sun-sparkles on the water, just her back visible in the photo I tried to take. One of the seal-folk, she seemed to me, drawn in to watch us as much as we were drawn to watching her.
On the way back I ran my hands over the bark of the Sitka spruce, a new tree to me, with extraordinary gold-tinged scaled cones. What a marvelous feeling, to meet a new tree!
|Stephen J. Baskauf (c) 2005|
It seemed, as we walked back, that new mushrooms had sprouted up everywhere, creating small umbrella-lanterns for the little folk who traverse the great ridges of fallen logs...
...and the dark magic reds of the amanitas, a troll-favorite, no doubt.
When I write of trolls, and that particular sort of old dark northern European fairytale magic, I hold in my mind not only the trolls of the imagination, such as those in John Bauer's magnificent paintings here, but also the troll-energies of any landscape, those forces who preside over the decay, the dark places, the root-place where the plants are, at this time of year, storing their resources.
This is the time of year for the sharing of stories over long morning teas, or around evening fires, stories of the trolls of autumn, of the young maidens who befriend elk in the dark mossy forests, the old tales that chronicle some piece of this great seasonal round, the Neverending of growth, decay, regeneration.
|Leap the Elk and the Little Princess Cottongrass, 1913, John Bauer|
And isn't this one of the great deep powers of stories-- to bring us together, in warmth, in great old friendship, through the autumn and winter, to stir us full again with the wild magic of the world?