Original Link: https://wildhunt.org/2022/10/column-wild-october.html
By Sheri Barker
Autumn started wooing me in August this year, when a charming presence on the other side of the liminal threshold began calling to me, urging me to step fully into the season. I responded to that call with a joyful abandon that still carries me, spirit high and sailing free, through orchards, corn fields, pumpkin patches, and days spent chasing color around the Blue Ridge Mountains. There have also been countless hours spent tending to the gardens and chickens here at home, taking afternoon naps outdoors, and quietly soaking up sunlight and energy while I commune with elementals, land spirits, the divine, and myself.
October is a wild month, though; restful or vibrant one moment, raging another, solemn and mystic the next. Here in the wilderness of October, there are no veils, no doorways, and no thresholds for those who are willing and able to walk between the worlds. It seems the nearer to Samhain the wheel turns, the less tethered I am to any place or time, and here and now has no meaning beyond the moment in which it exists. I am as much drawn to the gray, fog-shrouded days as to the sunny bright ones. There is something about darkness and mystery at this time of year that has nothing to do with mortality or being frightened and everything to do with seeking. I could not resist the call of these days even if I wanted.
Living in western North Carolina provides easy access to some of the most beautiful scenic drives in the southeastern United States. During this season the Appalachian Mountains provide a stunning display, and the views from the parkway that winds through these mountains are breathtaking. One of my favorite things about them right now is the way they reflect the ease with which one can travel from one realm to another. Sometimes I wonder if, of their own accord, they have not moved me from one space or time to another and then brought me home again in the blink of an eye. One evening I drove north up the parkway to Craggy Garden Visitors Center. I wanted to take in an autumn sunset before the tourists descended and the leaves fell. The view from that spot is a seemingly endless panorama of mountain ridges stretching to the western horizon. Seeing the sun melt down the sky and behind the mountains from that lookout is a once-in-a-lifetime treat that I have enjoyed a hundred times over. The sky was sunny and mostly clear when I left home, so the chances for a clear sky at Craggy seemed good. Along the first part of the journey the views and autumn shades of red, gold, orange, brown, and green were warm and inviting and I stopped at several overlooks to admire the timeless beauty of these mountains.
The weather began to change when I passed Bull Gap, which has an elevation of 3,107 feet. Wispy fog began to appear, and ahead of me and over the valleys and ridges beyond the road I could see that the clouds were starting to drop. That kind of weather can make for suddenly dangerous driving conditions, but when I felt a little frisson of fear and excitement it was because I felt a threshold shift with the changing weather. I was not sure what I might encounter if I continued up the road, but I simply had to go on. I had to know. I had to experience the mystery. As I drew nearer to the visitor center, which has an elevation of 5,497 feet, visibility continued to decrease until the road was nearly enveloped by clouds. By the time I pulled into the parking lot, I could see no farther than ten yards. The clouds were thick, damp, and cold. I was certainly not going to be able to watch the sunset. Parked in front of the stone wall that keeps visitors from plunging down the mountain, I could see the wall clearly but the branches beyond it were shadowy lines in the mist. I turned the engine off, rolled the windows down, and waited.
Except for an occasional murmur of muffled conversation in the distance, there was no sound. No traffic, no insects, no birds calling. Everything was still, and that stillness heightened the feeling of expectation that lay huddled in my chest like a cunning, rusty red-brown fox waiting to pounce. I sat there for more than an hour, focused on nothing and everything, letting my thoughts drift with the clouds as I tuned into the environment. Eventually, I could no longer ignore my cold nose and cheeks or that my body was becoming uncomfortable and encouraging me to leave. I got out of the car to stretch my legs and warm myself up with a walk. The visual range had not improved, and the way the rolling, shifting mist curled and swept around me as I walked brought to mind old books, British moors, and Edgar Allen Poe.
Might as well see if I can get this meeting started, I thought. I called out to the presence that was waiting somewhere out there in the clouds.
“Spirit, I know you are here!” I said. “I can feel you! What do you think? Sherlock Holmes or Poe?”
I did not wait long for an answer; a seemingly disembodied baritone voice replied, “Definitely Poe.”
The speaker’s decidedly southern accent stretched the name into two syllables. No mystic encounter there, then. We both laughed. Then I heard the throaty growl as the engine of a heavy-duty pickup truck turned over and I watched as headlights tried to cut through the fog and one of my unseen companions left the parking lot. Sighing, I kicked some leaves around with the toe of my shoe. I stepped up to the wall and peered into the mist, searching for a face or shape or sign of any kind. The fox in my chest had gone to sleep, probably with her tail curled around her nose in an effort to stay warm. No one appeared. Nothing appeared. One more sigh, then I spoke in a quieter tone of voice.
I explained that nighttime was beginning to fall and that the combination of darkness and fog would make my trip home unpleasant and a little dangerous. I said that I truly wanted to see or know whatever there was to see or know and that I would wait a while longer in the hopes that it would reveal itself or somehow communicate with me, but I needed to leave before dark. Turning to walk back to my car I felt an extra chill touch my spine, and I interpreted that as a sign that whatever was out there was listening to me. The tiny fox woke up. I got into the car, turned the heat on, and rolled the windows partway up. As I was settling back into my seat I heard a gurgling, croaking call from the mist. I sat forward, and the red fox sat up, both of us eager to see who was coming. There was another hollow, oddly musical, and drawn-out croak, then a large common raven drifted down to land on the rock wall in front of me. He stood still for a long time, dark form clear against the mist, and fox and I sat still as well. I was so focused on the raven I was sure our hearts must be beating in sync.
I wanted him to turn and face me. To bow. To speak in human language. To Stephen King my world just for an instant. He did none of those things. He just simply – he just was. Elegant. Graceful. Mysterious. I watched him and allowed myself to slowly sink into the moment and the connection. It cannot have been long that we stayed that way. He made another sound, a sort of hollow knocking call, then took a couple of steps and launched himself into the mist. How simple he made it seem. I honestly do not know how I managed to get a picture of him. I lingered a few moments more, aware of the coming night and the need to get home. I jotted down notes about the experience and my thoughts and feelings because I did not want to forget any part of it. Writing it now I realize that to another observer it might seem to be an ordinary encounter. Maybe even a fragile one. It was neither. Many days and nights later I am still processing my meeting with a raven in the mist high up on a mountain. Some experiences are not intended to bring instant gratification or immediate understanding. I am grateful to have quiet, inward-focused times ahead to give further consideration to this mystery.