Hits the spot

A world bloomed in her mug. A forest emerged, complete with a circle of ravens to welcome the dawn. Perhaps this blend of tea was more magical than advertised?

Bergamot, hyssop, and a dash of hinoki oil were the listed ingredients, but she was sure there had to be some surprises. There always were. No cook gave away all her secrets. They were like magicians in that way. Revealing just enough but not too much … any more and the gig was up and you’d be out of a job.

People paid for secrets. They paid to be surprised. People paid to suspend their disbelief if only for an hour. It was how writers survived – this compulsive need for lies of all sizes and shades. White lies were still lies after all,still less than the truth. But the truth was too much for most people. Little white lies kept the wheels of society greased.

But this tea might take some serious adjusting to. Was she tall enough for this ride? She’d gone to this tea blender for several months now but this was the first time she’d considered that the mix wasn’t for her. Perhaps it was for another customer? Or perhaps the blender (more alchemist than anything else) had over estimated her needs this time.

For this was no ordinary tea shop that she found. The tea resided in dark brown glass jars, with handwritten labels. Some were blends, but most were raw ingredients, ready to be whisked together into the need of the day. Patrons didn’t even tell the clerk what they wanted. That wouldn’t do. They could not be expected to be objective enough to know what they really needed, after all.So they came in, waited their turn, and then sat before the clerk who observed them. Sometimes s/he would take their pulse. Sometimes s/he would ask the patron to stick out their tongue. But nothing more – no medical history, no list of prescriptions or supplements written down or spoken.

It was a simple affair, but one that required over a decade of training, and that was only after a rigorous testing just to be considered for the role of student. Students had to be impeccable in their words and actions,diplomatic, and able to raise all the funds for their training upfront. There were no scholarships. There were no loans. The entire tuition had to be fully funded from the start. The teacher wished for each student to be able to serve her whole-heartedly upon the completion of their apprenticeship (not graduation, for they would never cease to learn) so the patrons could be served without distraction or hesitation.

So this had to be what she needed, but was she ready for it? It tasted like no other tea she’d ever had. Was that a woodpecker call she heard from her mug? Did she see antlers? She’d never hallucinated before, college being at a private Christian school, but she suspected this was what it must feel like. And feel was the right word – she didn’t just see the trees and animals in her tea, she could hear and smell them too. They were there, but in miniature, in her mug.

Well, there was nothing to it but to do it, so she took a sip. The forest stayed horizontally oriented, the birds continued to fly, and the still hot tea tasted like earth and moss and stone as it slid down her throat.

Strangely, it was exactly what she needed.

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The bones of the matter

She’d asked for a dog but they gave her an alligator instead.Or maybe it was a crocodile? She wasn’t sure and they weren’t telling. They never told her anything anyway. Just gave her chores to do and no instructions and there was hell to pay if she didn’t do it right – whatever that may be. She never knew because they never said.

And yet, somehow, at her tender age, she’d sussed it out.Without training or guidance or even an instruction book she knew how to do it,whatever it was, in spite of them. Were they trying to test her? Or were they simply evil, hoping for her downfall, wanting an excuse to yell at her for not doing well?

Was this how they were raised? Was this how they thought they should treat others? What goes around comes around, after all, and people can’t treat people like how they want to be treated if they don’t know any better.

So she suffered from these teachers, these guides, these “superiors”who left her a box of materials and not even a picture of it go by for what she was supposed to build. Sometime she built whatever she wanted. If they didn’t watch it, she might build a rocket launcher. It would serve them right.

Right now she was training her reptilian companion to fetch,but soon would start the real training. He had sharp teeth and a surprisingly strong tail. It would be easy to teach him to attack on command. It was part of this nature, after all, to grab a victim and pull it down under the water,thrashing and turning until he could bite down a few more times. Puncture wounds usually took the fight out of anything rather quickly.

She didn’t want to resort to that, having spent more time in Sunday school than she cared to consider. Perhaps that was their plan all along– make her docile, unwilling to fight for her rights, unwilling to follow her own nature. Humans were selfish creatures once you got down to the bare bones of the matter, and religion was nothing more than a way to civilize them, make it possible for them to live together in close quarters.

But that wasn’t who they really were, all that forgiveness and “turn the other cheek” hooey. What person in her right mind would give away her only coat, either? And yet they’d done it, mostly, had trained women to be passive, to apologize for speaking their minds, to forgive even when the other person hadn’t apologized. Maybe this was why women were majority of those who suffered depression and anxiety attacks. The dissonance was unbearable.

She started to wonder if maybe she wasn’t truly female, at least all the way. Maybe she was just female on the outside. She didn’t feel one way or the other on the inside, but she had nothing to compare it to so she didn’t know any better. But she did know she wasn’t swallowing what they were trying to feed her. She wondered how all her classmates and friends could stomach this madness, this meal of compliance and conformity. It tasted bitter to her, and bare. It tasted of bones and bile, nothing nutritious, and certainly nothing to benefit a growing girl.

Maybe that was their point – to stunt her, to slow her down.Maybe their treatment of her was for the same reason a horse was handicapped –to not give it an unfair advantage, to level the playing field. Maybe they were afraid the other children would feel low around her, so they brought her down to their level. But when ever has dimming a light helped those in darkness find their way?

It was time to shine.

But first, she was going to train her pet to do some tricks they didn’t see coming. They needed to know it wasn’t right to mess with nature.

Farmhouse

She nearly slipped on the moss covered cobblestones. How long had it been since someone had used this hatch? And yet the planter near the gate had a tiny plant in it – trimmed, healthy, not unruly and wild as cultivated plants went. This was being tended – but by who? And why wasn’t s/he using the door? Why come all this way to keep this plant in a pot alive? This corner of the farm wasn’t exactly on the way to anything you needed. There weren’t chickens to feed, horses to comb over here. And yet someone had been here, and recently – within the week at least.

Funny how wildflowers never needed attention,but everything else did. Maybe it was time for people to start valuing things as they were and stop messing with nature. Nature knew best how to stay alive.

But now she was in charge of the farm. It washers, to have and to hold from this day forward, until she died. She hoped it was for better, not worse, but you never knew with these arrangements.

The country had offered this unique real estate plan for 30 years or more now and it was working out well. If you promised to improve the property and to never sell it, you could stay there for free. It was a great way to deal with the homeless crisis and abandoned buildings at the same time. Two birds, one stone.

Once a minor government worker had put the pieces together it was so obvious a solution that the bureaucrats almost didn’t act on it. It was so simple that they thought there had to be a hitch. Where was the profit? How could they benefit – in tax revenue, if nothing else? Once it was explained that they no longer had to pay the police to chase off squatters, they started to warm up to the idea. Once it was explained that they also wouldn’t have to spend any money on the homeless, they cottoned to the idea even more. And yet they still were wary – were they simply letting the squatters win? Was this another liberal trick?

There were background checks. There were interviews. There were tests. There were forms – God were there forms! That alone weeded out the illiterate and the impatient. Only those who made the time to wade through all that folderol were up to the task after all.

Plenty of people who won the challenge moved in right away, bringing their whole family with them – aunts, cousins, dogs, the lot. They had learned in the interview process that it would require many hands to make light work of all the farm chores. Others, lacking in blood kin,scouted the neighboring villages – the farm houses often being isolated affairs– and hired the very people who had been ousted as squatters the weeks before in the transition.

Those people knew the patterns of the farms – where the animals huddled in bad weather, where it was dry and where was wet. This knowledge would help speed things along. Plus – they were often grateful to legitimately live where they had spent so much time. To get paid in bed and board at a place you’d stay for free was a real blessing. The farms ended up like a kibbutz – a collective, where no profit was expected and hard work was understood.

But this little doorway – with its rough hewn wood and antique door lock – what was it guarding? And how long since it had been opened? Or had it ever? It was entirely possible that the door had been created just to keep something in forever, or at least as long as it was alive.Otherwise why have a lock? If it was something that needed to be forgotten, it could have been walled up, with no sign to passersby that there was anything of interest beyond.

So she found someone on the farm who could pick locks, and away they went into the hatch, just the two of them, but prepared at least with a pitchfork and a hoe. There was no telling what they would face.

Inside they met a mirror monster, which greeted them with suspicion and curiosity and a bit of entitlement. The two humans felt that this was their home and everyone else needed to leave – in the mirror monster felt the same way. It was only showing them what they showed it. It was nature, at its most basic, and it had stayed alive all this time because most of the people who encountered it were comfortable with the foreign, the alien. They saw it as a friend they didn’t know yet, rather than an enemy to be defeated.The mirror monster lived in this field – had as long as memory and longer. It roamed its land and never strayed.

A century ago or more a landowner had marked off the monster’s land, declared it sacred and special, because he felt whole there. This was his special place to remember who he really was – not scattered and divided, but complete and calm and centered.

If he’d been of the religion bent, he might’ve told the local rabbi or vicar about this place and let them enclose it further, building tall walls and a roof to further mark the space as sacred, as set-aside, but he wasn’t, so he didn’t. He felt it was important to leave this area for anyone who needed it, rather than seal it up only for those of that one faith tradition and only open when they felt like it.

It was his ancestor who watered the plant near the hatch, but she did it secretly. It wouldn’t do to call attention. Her forefather, the one who built the walls but not the door, had been ousted by someone of a different ilk, a darker bent. That person had come to visit but had jealousy in his heart. He saw the flourishing farm and wanted it for his own.

He used the law to his own advantage, not as it was intended.Instead of the law being a shield to protect the innocent, it was used as a sword to cut and divide. Within a few short months the farm changed hands.

When this interloper, this usurper, entered the field, the mirror monster struck with full force, meeting energy with energy as was its nature. Faced with his own ugliness, his own greed, the new owner put up a gate with a lock to ensure he never accidentally walked in there again. If the farm were smaller, he’d have torn down the walls and dug up the field, attempting to eradicate the spirit. Not like that would have done him any good – the force occupied the space, not the land. It was beyond the material, beyond what you could see and touch.

This would have been the case had a shrine been built there too – the place didn’t make you better or worse. It just made you more of what you already were.

These mirror monsters were everywhere, and many’s the temple that had been built over their domain. And many of the sacred sites had good people as well as bad visit. The place could serve as a challenge to the unsettled, the suspicious – where they suddenly had a choice. Continue feeling unsettled, fearful, or start feeling curious and open. They had a choice to stay where they were or become someone else – someone open and hopeful.

But now she thought – what to make of this place? Or did it need anything done to it? Not everything needed to be “developed”. Some things are perfect as they were, unspoiled, naturally alive. There is a wisdom in the unspoiled, the as-is. Where did humans get the idea they were improving land –that their way was better than God’s way?

Forest

The forest had grown up around the archway, twisting tendrils and vines into and over and through the rough hewn stones. It would be impossible if not foolish to cut away the foliage now – living plant and dead stone had merged into one being now, inseparable.

The founders of the garden had no idea this would happen, but they and their plans were long forgotten by now. What had been the centerpiece of the village had become an afterthought, a ruin. It was a century later this treasure was rediscovered during a push for more housing. The forest that had grown up was now seen as expendable, extra, not vital. Some politicians even preyed on people‘s fear and said that dangerous animals lurked within, or that the forest harbored criminals or immigrants.

So now the garden has been found again, and now the people learned it was built as a sanctuary for peace, an embassy of healing. This was created as a “breathing room” for anyone who needed it – a sanctuary of stillness and calm where people of all walks of life could refresh and recharge their souls.

However they’d forgotten the need for this, forgotten they had to tend the soil of their hearts in order to bear fruit. Forgotten, to their peril and loss.