Hermes Beckons: Accepting What’s Invisible Is Difficult
Shasta put the phone down and, uttering a long sigh, sank into the chair. The call from her older sister Melody was expected but still deeply unsettling. Her mother had been taken to the hospital, and now it was a matter of days before she would leave this world.
Her mother, Catherine, was dying from lung cancer. The chemotherapy treatment was perhaps prolonging her life for a few months even though its debilitating effects were weakening her spirit to live. According to Melody, their mother was letting go, indicating in many small ways that she wanted to leave regardless of the effects of chemotherapy. “She’s willing herself to go, Shasta. No doubt about it.” Melody’s voice resounded in her mind. It was probably for the best. Why live and suffer so much?
Catherine Lewis was eighty-six and had lived a fruitful life. She had the joys of her time and the sufferings too. When her husband Craig and son Elvis had died in the tragic accident with a logging truck, she had showed strength and fortitude. She refused to be caught in a morass of sorrow and overcame her sadness to regain her life’s journey. The deaths were numbing, yet her spirit rekindled, and she led her daughters away from treacherous self-pity. As Shasta grew older, she saw her mother as an exemplar of the life-force focused on its destiny. Don’t give in to sorrow or self-pity. Focus on what needs to be done and do it! Yes, her mother had courage. She was tough.
She knew that Melody was correct. Catherine was not one to try to hang onto life as long as possible. Quality was more important than longevity. Having made her decision, she was ready to move on to the next stage in her destiny. Suddenly, an intensely religious feeling fell over Shasta, and she burst into tears. Sobbing, she grabbed some Kleenex and wiped her eyes. It was better to go with her feelings than to fight them. Courage in the midst of sorrow—her mother’s legacy.
Now she needed to make preparations for the trip to Dunsmuir, nestled in the foothills of Mount Shasta in northern California. She had grown up along the banks of the Sacramento River as it flowed southward. Even though she had resided in several other towns and cities after leaving Dunsmuir for college, her birthplace still held a special meaning. Important early influences had happened there, shaping her as she was now.
She would leave early in the morning before commuter traffic clogged the Bay Bridge and freeways. If Ralph was unable to leave that soon, he could come up later by Amtrak. She would find him and tell him the situation.
Ralph was in the studio when he heard Shasta call him. He looked up and noticed that she was distraught and on the verge of tears. He went to her and they embraced. She shuddered and squeezed her bear man tightly. “Mom’s dying. Melody just called. The doctors are saying she’s got only a few days.” He pulled her into him and tenderly caressed her. She broke the silence. “I want to be with her in her last moments. I’ve decided to leave early tomorrow morning. Are you free to go that soon?”
“I can be. All I need to do is let Rafé know. I’ll be ready.” ***
The burbling sounds of water were calming. Sitting on an outcropping of rock in Panther Meadows, Shasta and Ralph were holding hands. Nearby the creek flowed along two branches down the slopes of Mount Shasta. Her mother’s burial had occurred that morning. Only the immediate family was present, but yesterday a memorial service had been held.
Catherine Lewis was well-known in Dunsmuir as a businesswoman and supporter of environmentally sound improvements and was politically active, often speaking at the town council meetings.
The memorial, held at the Boswell Funeral Home, was attended by Catherine’s many friends. Even some old political opponents were there to speak kind words about her integrity and strength of character. This sharing of memories bolstered Shasta and Melody’s spirits.
Panther Meadows had been a favorite place since her childhood. Her early memories brought a comforting warmth. She had spent, what seemed to her, hours watching the water flow over the rocks in meandering patterns, spreading out and then narrowing back. The insects busy with their daily activities had caught her attention: bees hunting nectar, ants scurrying about, butterflies gracefully gliding through the air. Bird songs wafted, texturing a musical background, always in harmony with sounds of water.
Panther Creek, bubbling up from a spring in the Upper Meadow, flows through a copse of mountain hemlock and shasta red fir into the Lower Meadow and down the slopes of Mount Shasta. Although one spring is the main supplier, water seeps from the ground at many places. The creek bed during spring runoff is wide and filled with wild flowers interspersed with mountain heather and alpine laurel.
As she relaxed into these healing images, a feeling of solace filled her. She remembered playing in the meadow, totally immersed in nature’s care. When she was here, anxieties, frustrations, and problems with family and friends would disappear. This was a magical place. Even now, today, she felt the sacred presence. The Wintu name for Panther Meadows is luligawa, sacred flower.
One of the stories she heard as a child involved Mount Shasta as a place where the soul left for its journey into eternity. According to the Wintu people, who for centuries had lived here, from Mount Shasta a dead person’s soul would go over to the other side. They had special locations, which were kept secret, for their spiritual ceremonies.
Her mother had been cremated and now rested in the earth beside her husband and son in the mountain’s embrace. The sunlight brightened when the sun reappeared from behind a cloud. She glanced upstream toward where the main tributaries of the creek emerged from the earth in a group of trees. She saw a little girl serenely examining flowers and walking slowly along a trail bounded by colorful blossoms. A feeling of sadness yet joyful overcame her as she watched the girl follow the trail of flowers as it meandered into the grove. Shasta felt light-headed, as if she were going to faint. She squeezed her soul mate’s hand and sighed deeply. He responded, squeezing and then raising her hand to his lips, kissing it.
She broke the silence. “I’ve been having some strange experiences. Just now I envisioned a little girl walking along the trail studying flowers, and the night before Mom died I had a weird vision. You were in the bathroom performing your teeth-cleaning ritual. I thought I heard someone call me in a soft voice. I looked up from the book I was reading, glancing around the room. Then I saw a dark human form. It wasn’t complete—only the head and torso with arms at the sides. The soft voice, coming from the shadowy figure, whispered, ‘Your mother is dying.’ I knew that rationally, but the voice was comforting, asking me to accept her death emotionally. And then the vision vanished. Strange, a peacefulness spread through me, like everything was going to be all right.”
“I had a similar experience before my mother died. And after my father’s death, on several occasions I felt his presence. One time I was walking out of a store, and I thought if I turned around I would see him. It was a good feeling, Not a scary or anxious one.”
“Did you turn around?”
“No. I paused and smiled. Then I continued on my way. It was enough to acknowledge his presence.”
“Keith died from lung cancer, too?”
“Actually, it was emphysema. Dad smoked four to five packs a day. He had a lot of pressure and stress at his job as supervisor of the underwriting department. He wanted me to go into the business.”
“That’s what I can’t understand. Mom never smoked, yet lung cancer got her. And she was always so healthy.”
“There are other causes—all the pollution.”
“I guess so. Joyce’s heart attack was a quick way to go.”
“Yeh. Mom was worn out and lacked a desire to continue living. Residing in a retirement center in Marin County after Dad died, she really didn’t care anymore.” Ralph hesitated, searching his memories. “Mom never really recovered from Kenneth’s death in Vietnam. For a long time it was like she was only going through the motions, but she did perk up when we married. She had a surge of energy—a renewal.”
“Do you think we can will ourselves to die, just give up?”
“Definitely. Other creatures do when they reach a terminal stage.”
The rhapsody of the creek was emotionally cleansing. They sat quietly.
“I’ve had other experiences of spiritual presences. After Dad and Elvis were killed, I had notions that they were trying to comfort me, pull me out of my sorrow and anger. I was so furious that the logging truck was speeding around that curve down the narrow mountain road and had to move into the oncoming lane, forcing my dad to swerve and go off the edge of the road into the canyon below. If those guys would only follow the traffic laws and drive safely. It wasn’t necessary for him go over the speed limit. The mill wouldn’t have closed down if he arrived an hour late with his logs.
“I wonder if that was the foundation of my mother’s strength, her awareness and acceptance of their loving presence? Oh, my. Thorton Wilder’s drama Our Town.”
“Yes, to accept what’s invisible—it’s difficult, heaven knows.”
“We rely so much on our five senses, especially sight. What about our feelings. Let them guide. If we can feel a presence, doesn’t that mean it exists?”
“Yes, but in a different realm. Unmanifested yet still existing.”
They listened to the melodious sounds of the meadow. A hawk glided over head in ever-widening circles.
“Strange how events modify our lives. I had just graduated from high school that summer when Dad and Elvis died. I was so happy and bubbling with enthusiasm—preparing to go off to college and live on my own. I was thinking of majoring in environmental science, perhaps eventually going into the forest service. That’s the reason I chose Humboldt State University. They have a good forestry program. Then when fall came around and I left to go to Arcata, I was in a foul mood. Pissed off. My world had shattered, disintegrated into shards of painful memory. My imagination had worked overtime. I could actually visualize the accident. Hear the sounds of screeching tires and a car turning over and over, bursting into flames. The agonized cries of Dad and Elvis. These images would replay at unexpected and unwanted moments. Suddenly, I would be in tears. Mom and Melody would worry about me. My friends would smile sympathetically and tell me that after awhile everything would be all right. When I arrived at college, I decided that I needed to present a new persona, so whenever that film began to play or sad thoughts touched me, I pictured Mom, so exuding strength and courage. My fearless mother would ward off the demons of grief. Ever since, she has been my icon.”
“When I first met Catherine, I thought what a marvelous spirit she has. From appearances I would never have guessed what burdens she carried.”
“My anger was a greater challenge. I strove to concentrate that fury into my studies in environmental science. My major in the Environmental Ethics Program required courses in social and political activism, so I pushed all my energy into protecting the wild, the forests and all that they sustained. Although I did not receive college credit, I took part in tree-hugging events, even a lockdown. Pepper spray was dabbed on my eyes by a sheriff’s deputy using a Q-tip. Was that horrible! Such a cruel way to arrest protestors. Those deputies should spray it on themselves and find out what it’s like. Yet confronting those mean-spirited earth destroyers was a healing salve for my anger. Later I realized that so much of my energy and courage came from knowing that my family supported my efforts. I had images of them, especially Dad and Elvis, standing beside me as I defended the earth. I was undefeatable, even as I was dragged to the patrol car and taken to county jail. It was during these clear-cutting struggles that I discovered a new weapon and used my talent for writing to battle the enemy. So my interests moved from the academic studies offered at the university to the practical concerns of protecting and enhancing the earth.”
As the sun was lowering in the west over the Trinity Mountains, they walked back to their car. “Let’s stop at Big Spring before going onto Melody’s. That’ll complete the renewal ceremony.” She paused, breathing deeply of the mountain air. At 7,800 feet she felt free of daily worries and concerns, which would again attach themselves as they drove down Everitt Memorial Highway to the town of Mount Shasta and on to its city park where Big Spring’s waters surged from a lava tube extending into the subterranean womb of the dormant volcano. These waters were the northernmost stream feeding the Sacramento River, and so some longtime residents regarded the snowcapped volcano, rising 14,162 feet into the sky, as the river’s sacred source, even though the three major tributaries or forks of the Sacramento River began in The Eddys, a part of the Trinity Mountains.
The next day before returning to San Francisco they visited two easily accessible waterfalls in Dunsmuir. The first was Hedge Creek Falls. The water descended over a granite cliff thirty feet into a charming pool. The small, tree-covered canyon created a serenity beyond time, even though the trail head began at a busy street. The Mossbrae Falls, feeding directly into the Sacramento River, was at its highest 50 feet, but it was nearly 150 feet wide. Water, cascading over the rocks from which ferns grew, created an ethereal mist and enchanted mood.
Ralph had visited the two falls only twice before. The first time occurred when he met her family shortly before their wedding. Catherine and Melody were upset that their wedding would be in San Francisco and not in Dunsmuir. He worried that this friction would affect his relationship with them. After Shasta took him on her guided tour of the waterfalls and Mount Shasta, he felt refreshed and charmed away their annoyance. The second time happened during one of their vacation trips, visiting family and exploring northeastern California.
As a child he had believed in guardian spirits hovering around natural things, like waterfalls. Of course, he had cast off his childish attitudes many years ago. Now at unexpected moments these thoughts entered his awareness, and he enjoyed speculating about nature’s spirit beings. Sitting beside a waterfall allowed the child to appear. Playfully, he would search for the hiding spot of the waterfall’s guardian spirit. Surprisingly, he would usually find a rock that obviously was the spirit’s abode. These pleasurable experiences convinced him that his child continued to exist, even when it seemed to have disappeared. ***
When Ralph entered the dining room with coffee and rye toast spread with red raspberry jam, Shasta stopped reading Four Souls, a novel by Louise Erdrich. Excitement marked her countenance. “I saw a brown towhee in the garden this morning. It was busily scratching that pile of leaves under the juniper tree.”
“Marvelous. Maybe they’ll take up residence in the backyard. Do you think I should provide more cover for them?”
“Let’s wait and watch. Too much activity on our part might only scare them away.”
Ralph nodded and sipped his coffee. Then he inquired, “How’s the story?”
“Erdrich is sewing a sacred dress. Nanapush puts it on to discover whether he’s worthy enough to wear a woman’s clothes.”
“Nanapush—isn’t he something of a trickster?”
“Yes. He drank a keg of sacramental wine while wearing the sacred dress his wife crafted. It’s a brilliant story.”
“I’ll read it when you’re finished. It sounds alchemical.”
He stared out the window for a few moments. “I had a pleasant dream last night. While I was recording it in my journal, I recognized it as a recurring dream.”
She smiled appreciation for the growth in his dream enterprise. “What was it about?”
“It is a very personal vision of the garden of Eden: a serene landscape, bounty of food, and variety of environment. There—among flowers, birds, and peaceful animals—near a creek flowing into a small lake is a grove on the edge of a meadow. The creek runs through the meadow into the lake. I am completely open to the surroundings and aware that this is a sacred place where I relax, imagine, and meditate. This is my still point center. I know that I’ll be leaving this place eventually and I have an intense desire to return, again and again.” He paused, waiting for her response.
“And do you?”
“Many times in the dreamland I search for this garden, but am frustrated, never finding it. Sometimes I meet obstacles or dangers that block the way. They often wake me up. In others I journey until I move into another dream or wake up. This is the first time I’ve visited the garden in several years. An aha occurred while I was recording the dream in my journal. Definitely, our sojourn in Panther Meadows on Mount Shasta a week ago has had a powerful influence on my mental state, especially at the subliminal level.”
“It is definitely a sacred and healing place. Experts in dream work talk about special techniques for returning. One is to visualize the essential traits of the dream and hold that image as you fall asleep. Also, the position of the body when the dream occurred is important.”
“You mean I should position myself in the same way? What if I don’t remember?”
“That’s a problem, of course. Next time, note your body position when you wake up.”
“Talk about serendipity. Last night I was reading Felicitas Goodman’s book.”
“Oh, the one about trance journeys. I’ll have to get into it.”
“Yes. The amazing thesis is that body position affects the trance vision. Now you’re saying the same thing about dreams.” ***
Shasta, gazing out the window of her study into the backyard, was thinking about the weird dream she had early in the morning. The involvement of death was not so unnerving as the death was of her father—he had been murdered. The dream bonded strongly with her memory of her father and brother’s tragic accident and so drew deeply of the emotional power. In her unconscious did she believe that the accident was a kind of murder? Or did the symbolism involve the basic structure of her selfhood, her soul even? Perhaps, her mother’s recent death was still breeding a morbid shroud to hang about her.
Another thought alarmed her. Ralph’s dream of the garden had touched her and soothed the black hole that was enlarging. His happiness had momentarily dissipated the gloom woven by her dream. Sighting the brown towhee had plugged the sorrow, and while she was reading Erdrich’s novel, the depression had been held at bay. Now that she was alone with her feelings, attempting to open the door of her imagination, she could not repress whatever might flow forth. The creative spirit often caused suffering as memories, hidden and suppressed for ages, surfaced and danced through her soul, engaging her feelings.
Turning, she walked over to the desk and sat down. By adapting the dream to her story, she could move past this sticking point and at the same time delve into her mind, exploring symbols as they reflected her psyche.
She brought up the work-in-progress folder on the monitor and began a new chapter. Ned Walden is murdered and suspicion, at least at first, falls on his son Kirk. In her dream she had entered the living room of the family house in Dunsmuir and found her father lying on the floor dead. He had been shot in the heart, but the weapon was not there. Now she must transpose the basic image to the story. She began typing.
Peaches was still drinking her first cup of coffee for the day, when Aeneas burst into the room and blurted, “Ned Walden has been murdered! The Waldens’ lawyer, Ted Emerson, just phoned. Kirk is the main suspect and he would like to hire our services to investigate the crime, especially whether Dinwot is involved. Ted made an appointment for an hour from now.”
Peaches glanced her wristwatch, which showed both hands at twelve. She shook her arm and then realized that the watch needed a new battery. “What time is it now?” she asked.
Virgil was the first to answer. “8:30 A.M.”
“Well, let’s gather all our thoughts together and update our knowledge of the case.”
Shasta paused, saving what she had written so far, and stood up, stretching. She walked over to the window. What demon was she fighting—both in her own life and in Peaches’? The dream had left her in a melancholy mood. Abruptly she giggled. She remembered what she had told Ralph about the creativeness of Melancholy the Muse. A cluster of ideas moved through her mind: Depression is the symptom of loneliness, which is caused by the feeling of separation. These feelings feed upon themselves, constructing a dark and dreary prison. The psyche is overcome by remorse and has no desire to escape. Only the magical touch of someone who cares can open the door, shedding light into the darkness and freeing the prisoner. What was the reason for her depression? Was it a feeling of separation from Ralph because of his withdrawal? Well, Peaches would assist Kirk and in doing so perhaps help in the author’s therapy.
At exactly 9:30 A.M. Aeneas ushered grief-stricken Kirk and Ted into Peaches’ private sanctum. She offered her condolences, and then Kirk asked if she would continue the investigation into the possible theft by Dinwot but also seek evidence as to the identity of the killer, especially whether Dinwot was involved in the murder of his father. After Peaches agreed, Kirk described what he knew.
“When I arrived at the shop yesterday morning, I found Dad lying on the floor in the office. He had been shot twice with a .38, which we learned later in the day. Dad had told me when I was ready to leave the shop the evening before that he had an important meeting that just came up and could not come to my apartment for our regular Monday night dinner and movie watching. The police haven’t found the weapon yet.”
When Kirk paused, Ted added that the police were especially interested in Kirk as the son who inherits his father’s estate.
Kirk’s reddened eyes and forlorn demeanor touched Peaches deeply, and she felt a motherly passion to comfort him. The best she could accomplish in this immediate situation (jumping up and embracing him sweetly was not an option at the moment) was to offer encouragement by telling him what evidence they had discovered about Dinwot’s culpability.
Peaches then laid out the situation. By using advanced computer technology (they did not mention Virgil’s existence), they had made contact and established protocol with Dinwot’s computer system, involving both his home and office. They had entered the system, searching for any incriminating evidence, and found copies of the Waldens’ designs with construction data. The dates on these files were later than the Waldens’ files were dated. So the presumption was that Dinwot had stolen from them. They had analyzed all the deleted areas on Dinwot’s computers and, by checking the erasing code, discovered underneath the erased areas data that suspiciously pointed to stealing from the Waldens.
Ted was chagrined when he heard the search was illegal and so the evidence was tainted. Aeneas tried to alleviate the sourness permeating the room by proposing that the evidence, although not usable in court, proved that Dinwot had stolen from them. Now it was a matter of investigating further and obtaining legal evidence that Dinwot was also the murderer. With judicious alertness Ted reminded the group that Dinwot might not be the killer, that perhaps his only crime was theft.
Peaches had an inspired intuition. They would construct a devious trap that would catch Dinwot, and what better method than by performing a magical illusion. With Kirk’s knowledge of magic they would ensnare the culprit with his own deceptions. Ending the session on upbeat mood, they agreed to meet the following day at the shop and discuss strategy.
After Kirk and Ted had left, Peaches and her team began discussing feasible magical illusions that could be used. Virgil asserted that first it should visit all the magic web sites and chat rooms for information. After the data had been collected, they could examine the options. Peaches and Aeneas agreed after Virgil assured them that the data would be available tomorrow morning. Her mind empty, Shasta got up and moved over to the bookshelves. She stared unthinkingly at the many titles. Two important decisions were to be made, but she was uncertain as to all the options available. What is Dinwot’s motivation for the murder? And what magical illusion could be utilized to trap him? Perhaps Ralph could offer suggestions, at least for the magical part. The outline she had written now would be fleshed out in the next several days.
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