Red Clay

 

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New year, and I’m alone in the middle of a forest.

Black limbs and blue sky branch overhead.

Underfoot, rocks, fallen leaves, and green moss are touched my frost.

Ice crystals glitter. Squirrels chatter and bluebirds and chickadees make loop-de-loops in the cold air.

Red Clay State Park, in Tennessee, is where I am.

This was the seat of Cherokee government, where the Council met and administered the community.

This is also where the Trail of Tears began, in 1838.

trail of tears

That long, murderous march killed thousands of people, displaced entire villages, uprooting a way of life and connection to land and soul that can still be felt, hundreds of years later.

I am alone.

The Council is gone.

What remains is a sacred flame on a hillside, guarded by trees.

After hiking the paths and clearing my head, I go to the stone furnace, and say a few words of remembrance by the flame.

Then my feet turn downhill, to the Blue Hole, the source of water for the villagers and place of solace for the elders.

It is a spot not quite in this world.

Bare trees hug a deep pool the color of unearthed turquoise.

Dark blues and greens, the water is gem-bright. And still flowing.

I bend down and scoop up a mouthful, then touch my wet fingers to eyelids, forehead and throat.

The spring becomes a creek, winding through banks where no path follows.

A wooden footbridge crosses to the other side.

I don’t cross, just yet.

The sun, higher in the sky now, is looking at the earth, at the waters, making everything breathe in, exhale.

I breathe in, exhale.

Mist rises from the creek-bed, gauzy scarves and swirling vapor robes.

Bodies rise and sway.

Bodies, walking the shining road between banks.

I see them, the long marchers, still here, still flowing.

Little birds bathe and splash at their heels. Droplets burst, like confetti.

This is illusion and not-illusion. Daydream and reality, at one.

For I too am mostly made of water, mist rising from this earth, a bit more solid perhaps than the steam rising from the creek-bed.

Yet I am mist.

And I am real.

My mist-sisters raise their arms to the sun. Are they greeting the day – or asking for mercy?

I don’t know.

There is no wind, only a faint breath close to my ear, whispering to the few dead leaves still holding tight to branches.

I plant my feet.

Currents run from my crown, down through spine, arms, fingers, hips, thighs, footpads.

Down and down, and up and up, currents spread a net through the axis of my organs.

Spirit is stretched wide, to the very limits of my skin. And farther.

The air around me is also inside my lungs, and that air forms a vessel for unspoken prayers.

The long line of water-walkers endlessly dance.

They signal to me: Stay on shore. You cannot follow us. Yet.

And yet…

My eyes follow, trace their sinuous torsos through the woods, to new orchards, houses, farms where before there was forest, wilderness.

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Mourning and celebration is in their smoky dance.

The earth can bear cultivation, but she is now overburdened, depleted, raped.

My body aches, sways along with the long marchers, grieving what’s been lost, rejoicing what’s here, what endures.

My mist-sisters reach up their hands.

And evaporate in the winter sun.

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