By Gaia Woolf-Nightingall
“Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” -Lewis Carroll.
I was always fascinated by the elemental forces that whirled daily around my body. The sting of the Winter winds, as they whipped past my cheek, the cool touch of the Spring rains as they poured down from the sky and soaked through my long hair. The healing warmth of the Summer Sun and the gentle caress of the Earth beneath my feet. These were the things that filled my childhood with joy.
The Elements were my friends and my guides as I traveled, far and wide, on daring and intrepid adventures, through boggy cornfields and across heather-laden moors. It was in these simple moments that I felt safe and protected, comforted if you will. It was a sensation that I could not find easily in the company of others.
The moments of greatest joy often arose as I watched the heavy boughs of ancient oak trees twist one way and then the next, in perfect rhythm with the ghostly music of the prevailing winds.
I would watch, enthralled as their wide branching canopies, were grasped firmly, on a swift updraft of air, when a frantic ballet would then begin. The trees would sway this way and that, over and over, until finally, after choosing their most favored direction, they would perform an impressive tour en l’air, and I would applaud and then run off down the field track in search of another Elemental theatrical performance.
The air, the sun, the rains, and the Earth, were the stalwart companions of my youth. It always felt natural to trust in them; they were my mentors, my guiding spirits, my ever-present chaperons in the broadening landscape of my vernal longings.
The year 1970 commenced the decade of my birth and was an era dangling over the precipice of great change. As a young child roaming the quiet streets and fields of my small Northern English village, I could not hear the din of the freight train that carried the technological world closer into my quarter. The unwavering advance of the computer age made no impact on my daily routine. The fields and woodlands were the stage of my imagination and the only search engine that I cared to avail of.
As a result, as I matured into my teenage years, a great fascination for the workings of all growing things seeded within me. They seemed to me to be the artistic interpretations of elemental power, rounding the landscape, with adept and beautiful installations, everything that a universal mind could possibly imagine.
The Sacred Elements of life had found form in the physical bodies of the trees, the grasses, and the flowers. I believed this to be propagation by Divine design.
I had accepted without question the perception of my senses and the guidance that they offered in their wake. And as my fledgling years drew to a close, the book of knowledge I had authored on my travels through the wild landscape of essential forces was packed, neatly into my knapsack of tools, in readiness for the next step on my journey.
“A mind is a fire to be kindled, not a vessel to be filled.” -Plutarch
I lived in a shared student house, with all the joys and vexations that came from sharing a very small, unkempt space with five young school friends. We were, after all, novices in the ways of budgets, hygiene, food preparation, and organization.
Our house fronted the large crescent Moon shaped bay of Swansea town, and my room overlooked the harbor. The clanging chimes of the boat masts anchored there flailed and groaned with the movement of every morning sea breeze. This was the alarm clock that established my day, and on waking, I would taste the salty sea air as it infiltrated my nostrils and called my sleepy mind to order.
I would begin my day with a walk along the three-mile length of the coastal path that set me on my way to the Swansea College campus. The water’s edge repetitively lapped at the rocks below, tantalizing me with the possibility of secret worlds, hidden, clinging tightly to the sea bed below the shoreline. Often as the ocean’s cold waters crept out under the direction of an invisible daytime moon, they would be left exposed to the piercing glare of the morning sun and my eager searching eyes.
Fionnuala, a college friend, called to see me one evening after I had returned home from school. We had by that time developed a great friendship, one which had been cemented by the curious affinity we had for one another’s others more interesting foibles.
The first time I ever saw Fionnuala had been during my first couple of days in Swansea town. I and a number of other students had arrived at the College-town with no living accommodations to speak of. We were, I suspect, the kind of people who shared a similar philosophical and, well, non-practical approach to life. We were the young folks who most appeared, to the very discerning eye, to be floating, ever so casually, with our feet a few inches above the pavement as we walked. We were not especially grounded in the ways of the material world, yet were trusting of it, nonetheless, full with the innate belief that all things would work out in the end, regardless of whether we had created a detailed map of all the possible roads, pathways or pitfalls ahead of us or not. Perhaps it was because thus far, out of either sheer blind luck or due to some larger, unknown design that we were oblivious to, things always had worked out for us.
That evening, Fionnuala had a request to make of me; she wanted me to stay with her at her home in the woods for a few days or even weeks, depending on how comfortable I was to do so. It was an odd request. I had never been to Fionnuala’s home before, despite being good friends for several years by now. She was, unfortunately, having issues with a neighbor and needed some safe company to bounce some ideas off, and had thought of me. I wanted to help her, and I was more than a little intrigued about her home. Recently, I had a dream in which Fionnuala had made the very same request to me. So we sat down together in my sparsely furnished lounge, and I recounted the tale to her.