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The Gold in the Shadow

November 1, 2011

The Gold in the Shadow

Tonight is Halloween.  Samhain.  Tomorrow, All Saint’s Day.  Then All Soul’s Day.  The Day of the Dead.  I drove home from work this afternoon to pumpkin colors in the trees and leaves whirling in the breeze after our first Colorado snowfall melted back into the earth. I laughed as a man drove by me in a black souped-up hearse decked out with grinning skeletons on the dashboard. These are the days when we admit, even for a few short minutes, even in jest, that death walks beside us… always. And through metaphor, symbol, costume, play, we explore our shadow, express our hidden sides and find humor in our own human condition.  The ghosts and goblins come out.  The witches and outcasts dance in the streets. The goddesses and gods cavort. We dance with shadow— for shadow is simply the unseen, the unacknowledged, the mystery. And there is gold in this shadow.


The shortening days bring alchemy—summer’s late harvest meets winter’s first breath and something new and alive and mysterious is created.  A certain slant of light, the smell of autumn fires on the wind, a felt sense that the axis of the world is turning and we with it. There is a quickening, a shift towards the internal light, contemplation, reflection, stoking what is within us. Every year as this season rolls around I feel simply expectant.  Something is coming.  Something magical is about to emerge. Perhaps it is simply the gold in the shadow. Or perhaps it is the sense of that radiance within glowing brighter and brighter, the way stars do in the moonless sky.


I spent last weekend with a wise and beautiful group of people and a 200-year old oak tree in California—her branches so old and strong and twisted they reach all the way to the ground.  For large parts of three days, we gathered under her branches to share our stories, dreams, visions for ourselves and the world—watched as the acorns dropped down, as squirrels played, as hawks landed to roost and then alighted again.  How many sunrises and sunsets, how many meteor showers and stormy nights had this grandmother tree witnessed? Slowing down, sitting at her roots, I began to see “tree”, to speak “tree.” I began to ponder the power of the acorn—all that DNA memory power packed into that tiny core—a veritable library of information, history, laughter, tears, memory, lineage. In that acorn was all of the ancestral memory of that tree and all of the potentiality of her descendents—and she this powerful bridge between, this translator, this singer of songs. At one point on the second day, I leaned my spine up against her trunk and she spoke to me.  The tree of life is not a metaphor, she said, slow and deep.  After three days in that circle of community, which very much included tree and stone and hilltop and hummingbird, I felt the magic emerging from the acorn that had been planted in me.


Three dear women friends of mine died over the last three years.  Each of them a mighty oak in her own right. Each of them mothers of beautiful children who carry their legacy somehow, someway in the world.  I say their names to remember them, to honor them:  Rebecca. Leson. Rachael. You who have gone on ahead of us to show us the way. Their presence tonight is strong, potent, palpable—as if the past and present were simply different layers of an onion. Embedded. Nested.  Here and there so close I feel I could simply reach out and touch  fingertips.


And so, ancestors—those who have come before us and those who come after.  We leave a plate for you at the table. Pumpkins at our doors. We light a candle in the window.  We say to those who have passed on—we remember you.  We remember you. We give thanks.


And the acorns rain down from the oak.

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