“Welcome to Moss Hollow, Sojourner.”
The woman who speaks to me is ancient. Though youthful beauty is but a dream for her, the beauty of age radiates from her body and spirit. The lines in her face know hard work, joy and sorrow. Her long nose and straight lips are honed to smell and taste what is healing and what is deadly. Her eyes are like the sacred pools where the salmon swim under the shadows of a Hazelnut tree. Her hair has gone silver and is braided with strips of leather twisted around bird feathers, small shiny crystals, and other bits of nature.
My tongue is dry and sticks to my mouth, preventing a response. Others gather around the old, weathered porch where she rocks and smokes her clay pipe. A chorus of welcomes is directed at me.
“He looks a little shocked,” says the man who was playing the banjo. “Here, have some lemon aid.”
He hands me a cup and I take a sip of the sweet-tart juice that unsticks my tongue.
“I don’t know where I am or how I got here,” I finally say.
“You have found your way to Moss Hollow. Only those who need to find it do, since it exists outside time and space. It is a journey inside a journey. I am Morgha. I have lived in this hollow since before explorers knew the boundaries of the world. Where the map said, ‘There be dragons’, it should have read, ‘There be Moss Hollow’.”
“I’m confused,” I say. “I was walking on the road near my home, thinking about being an Earth Warrior, and the next thing I knew, I was in the forest.”
“Ahh… You wished yourself a quest.That explains it. Moss Hollow is just the sort of place where Earth Warriors would come a-questing. Well, then, there’s much to be done.”
A Quest? Just the word raises goosebumps on my arms. It’s a mythic word. Heroes go on quests. Seekers go on quests. Hobbits go on quests. An ordinary person like me does not go on a quest. And besides, I’ll be missed in my regular world. “Whoa! Wait a minute! I haven’t even let anyone know I was leaving.”
Morgha shakes her head. “Should you stay in Moss Hollow and continue on this path, you will eventually return to do the work needed of an Earth Warrior. When you do return, no one will even realize you’ve been gone.”
“Oh, okay,” I say and swallow hard. Did I just commit to this journey?
“First things first,” Morgha continues with a nod. “The first task of the Earth Warrior Quest is to learn who you are. You must go through the process of shedding all the things that are not you, and stripping yourself down to bones, to find out who you really are. Don’t, for one moment, think the journey is easy. It is dangerous, frightening, exhausting, frustrating and will at times, seem cruel. You will be required to sacrifice things you believe are essential to your being, but are not. You will be asked to give more than you think you have. You will learn how beautiful you are but also how terrible you can be. But, all of it is necessary and the path will lead you to becoming a dedicated and initiated Earth Warrior.” She leans forward and I could swear her eyes see right through me. “Are you ready to walk the Labyrinth, the Path of Awakening?”
“I guess,” I say.
She frowns. I’ve already disappointed her. I’ve failed the first test. I’m disappointed myself. If I want to become this protector of nature, I need to be here, walking this path. And anyway, where else would I be? In one sense, I’ve already been on the path. What I need to be who I want to be, seems embodied by the people standing all around me. I clear my throat and stand tall. “Yes! I’m ready,” I amend my response with enthusiasm. Her frown disappears.
“Pardon me, my lady, but is it not possible to walk the path of an Earth Warrior and the Labyrinth at the same time?
I study the banjo player. He is tall and lean, dressed in khaki colored cargo pants and a purple Madras shirt with layers of beaded necklaces hanging from his neck. He has long, black dreadlocks dotted with small, colorful stones and beads. He has the complexion of warm mocha with dark, compassionate eyes, and has three dark moles on the left side of his face, one near his temple, one on his cheek and one at the edge of his jaw. His eyebrows arch elegantly as he asks the question.
“Sojourner, this is Renwick Ravenwood. He is one of your teachers. You are right, Ren. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that you won’t come into your fullness as an Earth Warrior until you have learned who you are and been through the Initiation. Serving the greater good requires a strong foundation. But you may still serve Nature while you are becoming. Bear Dreamer, the bones, please.”
A man of the First Nations hobbles to the porch. He is at least as old as Morgha, bent with age, his face lined with wisdom. Bear Dreamer steps forward and casts a set of small animal bones on a flat stump next to me. They fall in crosses and straight lines, all touching each other. The old man grunts and hums and waves his hand over the bones. After what seems an eternity, he glances at Morgha with a wink and then at me. “You will be successful with your quest but you have a long path to follow.” He points to the crossed bones. “Many diversions. Many lessons. Ultimately-an Earth Warrior you will be.”
I’m startled by the sudden feel of fur nosing under my hand. I look down to find a large Wolf beside me. I sidestep but Morgha’s laugh halts me. “It’s okay, Sojourner; Wolf will not hurt you. He is one of your animal guides.”
Wolf’s luxuriant fur of gray, brown, rust and cream feels warm and comforting under my palm until I feel a gentle buzz like the feeling you get just before a lightning storm. I meet his golden eyes and am drawn into his power. A shiver ripples up my spine and an urgency fills me, like I might become a part of him.
“Be careful, Sojourner, ” a new voice breaks the trance, “or you might become Wolf yourself.”
Her voice is like the joy of youth. Her face, the same. A wide, open smile is set in pale skin with apple-blushed cheeks. Energy pulses in innocent abandon from her. She wears faded blue jeans, a tie-dyed t-shirt and purple sneakers. A yellow bandana holds back her straight, blonde hair. But it’s her sea-green eyes that captivate me.
She laughs and leans close. “Look into my eyes. What do you see? The wild, cold ocean? Sagebrush on the high plains? Lichen on stone? My eyes are a gateway to yet other worlds. Do not hold my gaze unless you are ready to know something about the future or time travel to other worlds. I am a prophet, an oracle or what some might call a witch. Come to my garden and we will tend the flowers and plants. Or, if you wish, we will do some eye gazing and go on a journey to somewhere magical.”
I am not ready and look away.
Morgha sweeps her veined hand over the group. “These are your guides and teachers, Sojourner. There are two more, but you will meet them later. Aranya, the Lady of the Forest, rarely comes into the village. You will meet her on your forest journeys, as you will the Mother Oak. And now, Sojourner, I give you a last chance to reject this journey. It is not too late to return to your world, abandon your dream and carry on as you were before you found Moss Hollow.”
She leans back in the rocker and takes a long pull on her pipe, watching me carefully. I look around the group to find them also waiting for my answer. The only sound to be heard is the breeze through the leaves on the trees. The trees. If I go home, I will be abandoning my dream to help the trees and the rest of planet Earth. Going home is not an option. I stand as tall as I can and take a deep breath.
“Let the quest begin,” I say.