Magically Real

SwimmerAs we think about Gabriel Garcia Marquez let us consider this description of magical realism from his Nobel acceptance speech:

“Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination. For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

Truer words were never spoken. Magic can manifest in many ways and if you are a dreamer you can be assured it will. Sometimes it happens in times of peace, often it will occur when life has you by the throat. Because then, you must grow or die.

“Reality is also the myths of the common people,” Mr. García Márquez told an interviewer. “I realized that reality isn’t just the police that kill people, but also everything that forms part of the life of the common people.”

Being a common person, I’ve found sustenance in the little things of life – in nature, art and in light.

Like Isabel Allende, Tom Robbins, Carlos Castaneda and Paulo Coelho, Marquez opens the mind’s eye, reminding us to consider the mystery that is life. I include below a story of my own magical journey, one among many that taught me  to live with a sense of wonder.

The Magic of Blunn Creek

There are places in life that bear silent witness to our growing pains, like a tree house or special hideaway most of us had when we were children. I think we underestimate our continuing need for such havens when we are adults, grown ups who often suffer the child trapped within. Blunn Creek, flowing through several Austin, Texas neighborhoods is my witness, the refuge for my evolution. When I was in my 20s, I lived by Stacy Park in Travis Heights. My dogs and I spent hours in Blunn Creek, which began for me then at Stacy Pool and ended at the hidden waterfall by Pecan Springs Rd. In the pale light of the moon towers, playing in their hexagonal shadows, or in golden hued afternoons, we coursed through the oaks with youthful abandon. Stacy Park holds many fond memories for me and my daughter, but it was later when I married and moved closer to St. Edward’s University, that the magic of Blunn Creek really manifested.

When I moved and started walking on the greenbelt in the Blunn Creek Nature preserve I was so grateful to be there. As I walked, my gratitude became prayers of thanks for the blessings of a new home and family. My friends and I were intrepid explorers of the preserve; an ancient remnant of the volcano that rumbled over 70 million years ago beneath what is now St. Edward’s University. Whenever I gazed at the city from the top of the volcanic overlook, I saw the far-ranging vision, the awesome perspective of geological eons. The trail became my muse, a refuge literally in my back yard, since our home flanked the greenbelt. It was a few years later that the dream of my marriage started to fade. The trail became a lifeline, my connection to the sustaining energy of the earth. A series of agonizing events, including the loss of marriage, job and home, set the stage for my eventual transformation, which was reflected in my connection to those healing woods. When I found some petrified bone chips on the trail I started a project that helped change my life.

BrLynchCoverIn July of 1997 I conducted an archeological survey of the St. Edward’s portion of the creek with the help of archeologist Rick Hubble, and my teacher Dr. Kay Sutherland. My friends Rene’ Barrera, the preserve manager and Brother Daniel Lynch, my fellow naturalist and preserve founder, were instrumental in this effort. Brother Daniel, with the help of a golden crowned night heron had convinced the city of Austin to buy the land that is now the Blunn Creek Nature Preserve when it was threatened by developers. With our discovery of a big flint core and stone chopper, I successfully petitioned the university to conduct a reconnaissance. We never found enough materials in context to justify an excavation, but maybe that was not the real reason for my search. When I am really focused on a project, my dreams often give me a glimpse of what is upcoming or of the underlying themes I may be unaware of. In one such dream, I was examining a dark brown piece of flint with a trough flaked into a circular pattern in the middle. At the top there was a very distinct crescent-shaped cutting edge. I stated in my dream, “Oh, a Nutter, commonly found in many areas of Central Texas.” The influence of Stone Tools of Texas, my primary reference source, was unmistakable. The next day I took my dogs, Queenie and Junior to Stacy Park, or north Blunn as I liked to call it then. I glanced down as we were coming up a hill by the creek and saw a piece of brown flint sticking up and thought, “Why not?” I worked it loose, brushed it off, and lo, I beheld, the rock of my dream down to every detail! The flaking, the trough, the crescent-shaped top edge were all the same. A flash of lightning shot through my body. I was transported by the feeling that I was in two worlds at once. It was as if the rock had materialized from my dream into my hand. I shouted “Wow!” to the dogs, my trusty companions, who reveled in my excitement. I suspect they understand, maybe better than we do how thin the veil between dreaming and waking can be.

Two months later, on September 15th, Brother Daniel Lynch returned to the light, a free bird. He passed on that Saturday at 4 am. The Thursday before, almost forty doves roosted in our back yard, which I have not seen before or since. Years later, as I read Carl Jung’s Synchronicity, he cited a large number of roosting birds as a fairly common synchronous manifestation in the immanent death of a loved one. Brother Daniel was the first dead person I had seen, an experience I shared with my daughter Aurora, who wanted to pay her respects. She said something truly profound as we looked at his body, so like a dry, fallen leaf. Aurora said that he had probably waited his whole life for this, to be joined with God. That was a comfort, but I was not comforted the Sunday before by a poorly handled announcement at church, and left crying. I went home and sat outside and cried for hours, mourning the loss of my saintly friend and wilderness preserves mentor. After really wallowing in it I thought again of the dig and finally had a positive thought: I decided to dedicate it to his memory and somehow continue his work on behalf of the Earth. Just as it occurred to me, a brownish/greenish-black bird flew right over, perched on my water glass and started drinking from it. It wiped its beak off on the side of the glass and started hopping off and back into my water glass. Then it got itself wet and jumped on the table, fluffing and shaking and scratching, clowning around. At one point it craned its neck and looked at me straight in the eye from its side-ways perspective. I knew it was a little Brother Daniel messenger come to give me solace. I tumped over my glass after it got stuck inside and finally, after shaking and scratching thoroughly it hopped onto my leg. Its feet were smooth like leather, and it moved sideways on my shin, stopping on my foot. After a while, I went inside for more water and came back out to find the bird still there. When I sat down it hopped onto my leg again and perched on my big toe, regally surveying the greenbelt. It was such a blessing; I had to laugh. What a joker.

The next morning I walked outside to empty the dogs’ water bucket and found, to my dismay, the toad who came out every night to play. It was bobbing on the surface like a cork, legs stretched stiffly out in four directions. “Not this too,” I thought, remembering how many times it had come out at night to play with the dogs, or in spite of them. I moved it out of the water, although it was white and stiff as a little board, and heard a burp. It blinked one eye, so I left it in the monkey grass, and then moved it into a plant, although it did not move and its limbs were still stiffly outstretched. A half-hour later, I watched it hop away. That frog had given up the ghost. You could see the disbelief on its face as it came back to life. I took it as a sign that resurrection is part of life and death. I was at a point in my life where pleasure and pain were constantly blending. Love and anger, life and death were one waking and dreaming convergence.

The foxes of Blunn Creek taught me a most valuable lesson in the spring of 1998. One day, as I was walking on the greenbelt, sinking down my tap root (a meditative technique), I thanked God for the earth, letting love circulate back into it while drawing the energy out. Pretty soon I felt like I was glowing, alight. There was a quick rustling sound to my left as I walked up the hill to the volcanic overlook. At the same time, I heard a sharp bark/growl to my right and looked over to stare right into the eyes of a large grey fox. I was so surprised that the fox had allowed me to see it, especially during the day. I spoke soothingly to let it know I meant no harm. We stared at each other for at least 5 minutes without moving, which felt like a long time. It was mesmerizing. I kept seeing the face changing, as it looked alternately like a dog yet was also catlike, with luminous yellow eyes. It was the largest fox I had seen and was still standing there staring when I turned to keep walking up the hill. I felt there was a meaning to the fox coming out in the open like that, but didn’t interpret it until later after another dreaming convergence.

About a month later I dreamt I was in a city like Chicago, with a distinctive skyline and a lake between myself and it. A plane like the kind that docks at space stations came into view wobbling and obviously in trouble. I started shouting like Chicken Little “Run, run, it’s going down!” The plane went behind the buildings and I paused in my flight, waiting to hear the explosion. As I turned around to see what was happening, an older Polynesian-looking woman, with a dark, wide face and soft features, grabbed my arm, pointed and said “Look!” The plane rose up at a 45 degree angle, with little more than a crease at the bottom. The woman said emphatically, “See?” As I stared at the plane, its license plate flashed into focus. It was my name, “Evelyn”. I felt like my life was on the rise and things would be OK, that I would not crash and burn. Two weeks later, I was talking with my friend Joe and it occurred to me very clearly that an old woman was coming to meet me. I told him, because I had felt her before, but this time I sensed her getting closer. I stayed home the following week because I was not feeling well and happened to catch an interview on KUT with a Hopi grandmother. She was traveling around the country getting people together to remind us to thank the creator for our lives and give love to the earth. I liked her tone and her simplicity and wondered if she was the woman I was to meet. Her name was Constance Mirabal.

That Friday, I went to an introductory session at Casa de Luz to meet Grandmother Connie. To my surprise, but not consternation, she was the same woman from my plane dream, not just someone who looked like her. She was very warm and kind, explaining that she was there for anyone who needed a grandmother and that the weekend prayer gathering in Wimberley was for us to participate in, not just to observe. There were people from Alaska, Kentucky, Australia, all over the world at the meeting. I spoke with her that evening and she reassured me that I should not feel weird about my animal experiences, that they were a gift that I could explore and share. I told the story in the prayer circle as I fed the sacred fire about putting down my “tap root” when I walked in the woods, drawing up the energy from the earth while giving thanks. A school teacher had spoken just before I got up and asked for help because she was so depleted and had no energy to teach any more. I was giving and gathering energy when the fox came out into the open and faced me and that was the message I was to share. I am really grateful to have the feeling and the visual image of Grandmother Connie to remind me to trust in God. She lives according to the dictates of the creator and is genuinely filled with peace and joy, willing to share with everyone.

I moved away from Blunn Creek in 2001, but go back occasionally to visit my favorite towering oak, who always reminds me to keep my tap root deep in the earth and to give thanks. Gratitude enriches me as much as my love of Nature, providing a glimpse from time to time, of the miracles that hide just beneath the lull of our daily lives. Taking those walks in the nature preserve saved my soul and my sanity. I can only thank Brother Daniel again for ensuring that the Blunn legacy was saved, and for protecting our little oasis in South Austin. I’m sure I’m not the only one with healing tales to tell.