Morning streams in through the forest in golden-green rays through leaves on the trees, washing ferns, oak saplings, moss-covered boulders and the meandering brook in pure, radiant light. A spider’s web glistens with diamond glinting dewdrops. Warblers sing praises to the dawn. Two hummingbirds zoom in front of my face. Wolf’s footsteps tread soft beside me as we walk between ancient trees that stand tall and resolute, like forest Guardians. A frog peeps as he hops quickly away from my next step. There is no path here. I am a forest wanderer.

Morgha said I must go into the forest. I was awoken in the hour before sunrise by Sageflower, who handed me a knapsack with food and told me to head into the Wildwood with only Wolf as a companion. No map. No instructions. No goal. With a few gentle words of encouragement and her sleepy smile, she sent me a-wandering.

Wolf is a quiet companion, though I seem able to communicate with him through some sort of unspoken language. He does not guide me in any way. If there is purpose to his coming, I don’t know what it is. He is simply with me.

I’m not afraid of the forest, but I am a little anxious at not having a plan or a path to follow. I feel aimless and hope that Wolf can prevent us from being lost. I try to focus on the beauty around me, and after a while, I realize that my mind has become quite soft. Transient thoughts float in and out and I’m happy to let them drift by. I’ve lost the desire to follow a prescribed route. I come across a massive trinity of stone that have naturally fallen into a sort of dolmen I can walk upright into. The cool shade is welcome relief to what is already a warm day in Moss Hollow. Wolf plops down for a rest and I follow suit, moving a spider gently away from a spot where I can sit beside my canine friend. Pleistocene-age energy emanates from the cool, solid stone around me. Closing my eyes, I try to imagine what the earth would have been like when it was covered by ice and crystal blue rivers of glacial melt. I knew that dinosaurs had come and gone in the previous ice age and now the earth was inhabited by large mammals like wooly mammoths and giant sloths. I wonder if those sloths wore the same silly grin that make sloths today so beloved. The stone shelter has cooled my body to an uncomfortable chill and I hint to Wolf that we should move on.

Noon-day sun warms me quickly and I explore a dry stream bed that peters out to nothing in the middle of an old growth forest. Perhaps there had been a spring there one day. The forest is magnificent here. Huge Mother trees rule over their young progeny who wait their turn to be kings and queens of the forest. Light dances through the canopy far overhead and I play a game of hide and seek between the wavering shadows and light. Wolf looks at me with a bemused stare and keeps walking. I end my play and hurry to catch up with him.

Suddenly, a flash of color in my peripheral vision causes me to snap my head around. I see nothing out of the ordinary. I look at Wolf, who is looking intently at a spot beyond me. He lopes away toward a rise in the forest terrain. I jog to catch up, trying to keep an eye out for branches, rocks or the odd chipmunk that could trip me up. I’m breathing heavy when I catch up to him at the top of the rise and what I see in the forest below stuns me.

 A massive, sprawling Oak tree, unlike any I have ever seen, holds court in a wide grove. Limbs and acorn-laden branches grow up tall to the sky and out wide to touch other trees. Some connect with the earth in which the trunk is rooted. Sunlight through the expansive display of scalloped leaves casts a bright green glow throughout the Wildwood.

Wolf heads for the tree and I follow. Standing next to this ancient monument, I feel like an ant. Wolf kneels on his front legs, in a bow of respect to the tree and I imitate his posture. It doesn’t feel like worship exactly, but deep respect for this being’s age and endurance.

“The Old Mother welcomes you, Sojourner.”

A voice that sounds like honey, moss and morning sun startles me and I slide sideways, ending up on my backside with legs and arms splayed out in several directions. Very undignified. I look up to see a creature so magnificently beautiful that for several moments I can’t speak. I do, however, see the hint of amusement in eyes that are the color of rich, leafy soil.

I scramble to my feet in front of this person who looks something like a faerie or maybe a dryad. The Forest Queen?  She must live in the forest. No. She is the forest. She wears only the clothing of nature: moss and lichen, tree bark, leaves, streams of ivy, all glittered by sunlight and moonbeams. Out of a headpiece of fern, moss, mushrooms, curved shelves of red fungi and pinecones grow curved horned antlers. I am reminded of the Forest King- Cernunnos but in feminine form.

She smiles and I am drawn to her lips, full and rosy, like ripe fruit. She is beautiful. She is Nature personified.

“I am Aranya. I am the Spirit of the Forest and the Old Mother wishes you to sit against her body and let her feel your energy.”

Who am I to argue with the Spirit of the Forest? I take a few steps until I am next to the old Oak and press my back against her rough barked trunk. Waves of pleasurable, pulsing energy wrap around me as the tree and I connect. My eyes close and goosebumps rise on my arms, my neck and my scalp. Instinctively, I open myself to her and we exchange energy. So this is what it means to be a tree hugger. Something like a laugh radiates through the tree. I think Old Mother just laughed at my thought. My thought? She reads my mind?

The pulsing subsides and although I am reluctant to end this connection, I am eager to learn more about Aranya.

The forest Lady steps near me. Wolf moves away and positions himself on the ground, head on his paws and eyes focused on Aranya.

“Sit down, Sojourner, next to Old Mother, and let us get to know each other.”

Aranya lowers her body and crosses her long-limbed legs in front of me. Our knees are touching. My back is supported by the Oak Mother and I feel the two energies embracing me with love so deep that tears form in my eyes. Aranya seems to sense it.

“It is okay, Sojourner. Open your heart and let us speak to one another in trust and truth.”

I take in a deep breath.

“Place your hands on the ground beside you,” she says in her soothing voice. “Feel the energy of earth rise up through you. Allow it to flow where it wants to go until you feel full of its power.”

Energy slowly seeps up through the earth into hands I have placed, palm down, against the dirt and leaves beneath me. I close my eyes. I can feel the connection of roots tangled below the soil. In my mind I see how deep they go, embracing each other in a web of roots throughout the forest, traveling far and deep, through bedrock and into underground streams of water. A warm shiver makes its way up my arms, into my chest and back, and divides itself in an upward motion to my head and a downward motion to my legs and feet. I feel grounded, like I’m a part of the tree.

“Now,” Aranya speaks quietly to me, aware that I have reached that moment of fullness, “look up through the branches and leaves to the sky.”

Seeing sky through the canopy of this magnificent tree isn’t easy but patches of blue dance above the topmost branches. The sun glitters down in warm beams and I close my eyes, feeling the heat on my lids.

“Welcome the sky energy. Allow it to blend with the earth energy until you feel the oneness with both.”

There is a sensual rush of energy in my body as the powers of the earth and the powers of the sky unite within me. I understand that the sky and the earth are connected, as are the birds who perch on the branches of the tree and the insects who dwell within the bark of the tree. And those are connected to the underground rivers that rise up in springs to form brooks that become rivers that flow to the seas. This knowledge and the feelings it evokes is overwhelming.  What do I do with this feeling of oneness with the elements?

“We are ready to meet, Sojourner.”

Aranya’s voice loosens the grip of earth and sky on my spirit, but doesn’t break it. I still feel the energy but less intense. Maybe I can carry on a somewhat rational conversation now.

“Let me introduce myself properly,” Aranya says. “I am Aranya, Creator and Created of the forest. I am verdant life, but well acquainted with death and resurrection. I communicate with the earth, sky and water through chanting and earth singing. I speak with all animals, including humans. I am also one of your teachers, as is Old Mother. Tell us – who are you?”

I tell her who I am and I realize how insignificant I sound. How unimportant my life seems.

“You have told me who you were in the Old Story. I wonder- who are you in the New Story?”

“New story?” Already I show her how ignorant I am.

“Let me explain,” she says patiently. “The Old Story, how things were, was where you lived before you came to Moss Hollow. That story began around the time of what you call the Industrial Revolution. That story is told from a human perspective and is grounded in the belief that the most important thing is human dominion and human progress. It sees nature as something other than sentient, as a commodity to be used and exploited to the benefit of humans regardless of the impact and cost to all the other beings who inhabit the Earth. It is the reason you feel the inspiration to become an Earth Warrior. You, and others like you, see and sometimes feel the harm that has been done by the Old Story and you want to help create a New Story.”

“What is the New Story?”

“It is actually the Oldest Story that has cycled around to become the New Story. It is about how the Earth can be returned to the way it was in the beginning, when the Great Song was heard by everyone and there was love and respect for nature and all beings who shared the earth’s forests, gardens and oceans. It is the wild earth you wish to create at this time in history.”

“How do I get to that world?”

Aranya smiles and puts a finger to her lips. “Listen,” she whispers.

All I hear is birdsong.

“Listen deeper,” she whispers again.

I close my eyes and try to listen beyond the singing birds. Dry leaves rustle at the movement of small insects and rodents. In the distance the brook offers its voice winding and cascading through the Wildwood. A creaking sound confuses me until I feel Old Mother stir ever so slightly and realize the creaking sound is her body shifting. Wow! I force my eyes to remain closed, wanting to hear more. An acorn falls and hits the ground. A chipmunk squeaks out a warning to an intruder. Wolf’s breathing, regular and relaxed. My rhythmic breathing. Drumming. A woodpecker, I think. Air. I hear air in the breeze blowing through the tree branches. I didn’t know air had a voice. I release these thoughts in order to hear deeper. A deep, but quiet, rumble enters my ears and consciousness. What is that?

“That is the heartbeat of the Earth,” Aranya answers my unasked question. “You are already in the New Story world. What you must do now is become the Earth Warrior that will bring what you hear and see in the Wildwood to the Old Story world.”

I sigh. To bring this natural peace and beauty to the world I came from seems impossible. “How? What do I need to do?”

“Become who you are in the highest aspect of your soul. You will need to let go of some beliefs and accept new ones. You must learn what your soul-gift is and learn how to share that with those who still believe in the Old Story.”

“My soul-gift?”

Everyone has a special gift, a part of their soul that guides their purpose in the world. Not everyone has the same gift to offer to the New Story. Are you a writer? A teacher? An artist? A beekeeper? Do you plant trees, grow herbs or clean trash from the ocean? What are you passionate about, Sojourner? What can you offer to a revitalized and healed Earth?”

I stare at Aranya. I have no idea what my soul-gift is. “Can I think about that?”

Her warm laugh floats through the forest. “I was not asking for an answer. Becoming an Earth Warrior is a process. You have much to learn, experience and integrate into your being. In the end you will embody your passion for the Earth. You will share it because there is nothing else you can do.”

“Will you teach me?”

“All of us will teach you. Understand, Sojourner, that abandoning the beliefs that have caused the near destruction of the Earth won’t be easy. You must be strong enough to survive the upheaval of your old life, old beliefs and habits. You may feel lost for a while, like a nomad in a dry desert. Eventually, if you survive this transition, you will be given a new vision of nature and your place in it. You will come to a crossroads where you must decide to accept the New Story and your new responsibility as an Earth Warrior, or go back to the Old Story way of living. You will be given the choice.”

I can’t imagine going back, and yet, Aranya makes this journey sound so difficult. Am I strong enough? I feel a surge of energy from her and Old Mother bolstering my confidence and courage. I can do this.

She takes my hands and leans forward, her crowned head touching mine. The power raises and I pull back to look into her eyes.

“I want to begin learning now.”

She rises, pulling me up with her. “Then let us be on our way. We have much ground to cover before Grandmother Moon arrives with new lessons.”

She turns me toward Old Mother. When she bows with steepled hands before the tree, I imitate the movement. From her crown, she extracts a small, white, dish shaped fungus and lays it at the base of the ancient Oak.

“Thank you, Old Mother, for sharing your energy and your wisdom with us this day,” Aranya says reverently. The wind song through the canopy increases in response.

I have an idea. I reach into my knapsack and pull out the shiny, red apple that Sageflower packed for me. I lay it beside the fungal offering. A wave of loving energy laps over me.

Aranya leads the way from under the tree and Wolf rises, stretches and follows. We three wander in silence for a while. She sings of the trees, the badgers, the snakes, the fish and the frogs. She chants names for all living beings, seen and unseen. Her fingers trace along the edges of leaves and her feet dance among the ferns and wildflowers.

I am intoxicated with this new awareness of the living forest. Just when I think I cannot receive any more from Aranya and the forest, she speaks to me directly.

“What have you learned today, Sojourner?”

I take in a deep breath, collecting my thoughts and trying to put them into words that make sense when spoken out loud. So much of what I have learned today has come from my heart, not my head. She does not rush me. Finally, I am able to communicate what I’ve understood from this wandering in the forest.

Everything in nature is interconnected. The Great Song awaits those with hearts to hear and sing it. Earth Warriors must learn about themselves, nature and the spirits of each place. Becoming an Earth Warrior is a process of transcendence. The Old Story must change to become the New Story and everyone has a gift to contribute to that transformation.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

About The Author

For Heidi Hanley, reading and writing are like breathing. On her 5oth birthday, she got serious about turning her passion for writing into a goal to publish. The result is The Prophecy, Book One of the Kingdom of Uisneach series. The Runes of Evalon, the second book in the series, is due out in April. Heidi lives in New Hampshire beside the Connecticut River with her husband and a Scottish Terrier. She has enjoyed a career as a Registered Nurse, Interfaith minister and is currently serving as a Hospice chaplain. When not working, you will find her reading, sneaking away to Maine, or and in the garden with the birds and faeries.

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