Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Autumnhouse

A field vole (c) Barrie H. Kelly

Vole, who lives at the root of an old fallen pine, knows the way in.

Her doorway is humble and easy to miss, but if you leave marigolds, or the last gold leaves of the buckeye, or the first acorn, at the root of a snag, she will most likely appear, plump with the last of summer's seeds, black-eyed, and kind. She will show you that the doorway is just here, through the hole in the rootplace of the tree which she uses regularly but which is also suddenly a smooth-carved, rounded door made of pine, with a bronze knob made of the bronze of ancient women who long ago tempered it among the embers of your blood, and now Vole is a plump, kind-eyed woman in a great tawny-furred shawl, opening that door for you, holding out a hand of welcome, gesturing you through. 

Inside, you are in a root, hollowed and smoothed and snug, a house that smells of ancient resins and fresh humus, nuts roasting, woodsmoke. There are windows, odd and random, glimpses of the afternoon's long gold light, the slantwise shade of rich sky blue, a buckeye heavy with shining nuts. The fire is new in the round-bellied hearth. Hazelnuts roast on top, and an earthenware bowl within, bubbling scents of corn and bean and sage and a hundred savory roots, a thousand. Only a Vole-woman knows how many. In the center of the round root room is a cushion woven thick of green and brown and yellow wool, and beside it a table made of a polished branch where all manner of wooden birds are perched. The woman settles back onto that cushion, taking a thin, sharp knife and a bit of wood from her belt. She begins to whittle and carve, singing high whistled vole songs that are almost too strange for your ears to follow. 

Varied thrush are coming, coming, coming through the night. Varied thrush are winging, winging, winging with the light. She chants as she carves. Pleiades are rising, varied thrush are flying, Scorpion has gone, Scorpion has gone. As she carves and sings, the root is no longer a snug house but a deep rush of sky and star and feathers. It is the inside of a thrush-breast, speckled as night, pulsing with a compass magnet and a map so old the stars sing to it like the singing vole. There the earth calls south, south. The stars have changed to gloaming. There is a place the thrush knows and flies toward, right into the window of the autumn house, guided by a thousand thousand ancestors. For the briefest moment the thrush flies right into your hands—a big songbird, orange and bluegray in painted swathes, with a song of two tones in one note that opens you up sidelong and brings the acorns swelling everywhere in the trees, and every ghost in your blood released to feast at last among them, welcomed home. 

The  Enclosed Garden, by Meinrad Craighead

Vole-woman stops singing. The house is only a root again, warm and safe. The hazelnuts have roasted. She places the wooden thrush she's carved in a window that peeks out onto a different forest where the stags are wild-antlered, big-chested, weaving after the long-necked and prancing does. Then she hands you a nut, hot and crisp and oily, the papery husk of it flaking into your hands. As you eat it, there is a sound around you like the rustle of falling leaves—buckeye, bigleaf maple, curls of madrone bark, old pine needles. It's a skin, vaguely shaped like you but also like a snake. Vole-woman scoops it up in a deft hand and throws it into the fire as you eat more nuts and listen to the thrushes as they arrive, singing autumn in to roost.