Summer of Faerie: “King Midas Chased Me This Morning” and “Summer of Invisible Dragons” by Rachel Donahue

My research methods for this Summer of Faerie project have been quick, messy plunges instead of the careful, methodical, deep dives of a professional scholar. However, I am finding treasures. J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alan Jacobs, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others have explored the mysteries of Faerie, including memory, imagination, wonder, and beauty. My latest pleasure was finally reading George MacDonald’s The Golden Key, which I had heard about but not read – a sparkling, mesmerizing tale with echoes of dreams, death, and eternity.

The other writers who have joined me in this quest of celebrating and adding to the Faerie canon continue to delight. Rachel Donahue returns with another poem that “strips the veil of familiarity from the world” to expose “its sleeping beauty” (stole that from Shelley). Rachel also contributed a story that reminded me of a hearthfire on a cool, misty day – atmospherically, somewhere between the Shire and the Misty Mountains. Enjoy!

King Midas Chased Me This Morning

King Midas chased me this morning.

I saw him coming in the rear view glass,
his broad reach spreading o’er field
and tree and man alike,
gilding everything in sight
until he reached my pane,
besmirched with dust,
and I could see no more
through the aurous wash.

As I fled, I turned to spy
him rising there behind a tree,
and when I least expected him,
his fingers reached
deliberately
and touched my eyes
till all I saw
was gold.

Summer of Invisible Dragons

by Rachel Donahue

3.5.42

Plowed the back pasture today. Tom Shepherd came down the lane with his flock and brought word that dragons have descended from the top of Mt. Summit. Strange news. He’s not one to believe in fairy tales. I’m afraid he may have the dropsy mind.

7.5.42

Successful day at market. Folks love Mae Ella’s rhubarb jam. Stopped by the inn for a brew and heard a traveler saying that Dunn Castle is under siege by invisible dragons. The other patrons laughed at his strange tale, but his story gave me a bad feeling. I told Mae Ella about it and what old Tom said the other day.

9.5.42

Helped Mae Ella prep her flower beds. Sowed the back pasture.

11.5.42

Cut hay in the meadow.

12.5.42

Figured out where the story of invisible dragons came from. They aren’t invisible at all—you just can’t see them. A messenger from Allendale said the eternal cloud at the top of Mt. Summit has descended upon Dunn Castle where it sits at the foot of the mountain. The castle is completely hidden from view. Said he could see flashes of fire inside the cloud all the way from Allendale.

13.5.42

Baled hay. Mae Ella helped.

14.5.42

Went to a meeting in the square this afternoon at Mae Ella’s urging. Rumor reached us this morning that the dragons have spread from Dunn Castle to Allendale. Some believe the dragons can smell crowds, so they refuse to go outside. That explains why the market was so slow. Wish I could’ve stayed home myself. There’s talk of canceling the lantern festival next week, though I don’t see the reason for such fuss. We’re a long way from Allendale.

15.5.42

Smithy says there’s an inventor coming to Redfield to teach all the smiths from surrounding villages how to make his contraption—a kind of metal parasol. Says it’ll protect from dragon fire. Smithy’s already asking folks to give up their swords and shields and any other scrap metal they can afford. Says once the dragons get here we won’t have much use for them anyway. Not sure that I’m ready to give up my weapons on a hunch. But I did check the roof over and patch a couple places.

16.5.42

Mended the fence in the south meadow.

17.5.42

Word came that the dragons seem to have a taste for elders and are sparing the children. Maybe they’re attracted to the smell of menthol and camphor, I don’t know. But there’s a cloud over Sweetdale now, so they’re one step closer. There’s another meeting in the square tomorrow morning—only one representative from each family. Guess it’s up to me to go.

18.5.42

We canceled the lantern festival. Who could have imagined. We’ve celebrated this festival on the same day for hundreds of years. But we can’t risk attracting the dragons with large crowds. Our elders are too valuable.

19.5.42

Planted the garden. Feels strange to be sowing with the threat of dragons. Wondering if we’ll even be here to harvest.

20.5.42

I took my shield and extra swords to Smithy today. Never thought I’d be protecting my family by surrendering my weapons. Nothing makes sense any more now that there are dragons. They’ve moved on to Birchwood, so it’s just a matter of time before they get here. People are celebrating the lantern festival by placing their lanterns in windows. It’s not the same, but it’s a mighty nice view from our end of town to see so many little lights aglow.

21.5.42

A traveling merchant in the market today was selling what he called “dragon repellent”—a stink cream guaranteed to keep them away. He made some sales, but I didn’t buy it. Mae Ella asked around and found it was something she could make herself. Now the kitchen stinks to high heaven. I sure hope she don’t expect me to smear that stuff on when I go out.

22.5.42

Yep, she did. I smell so bad I can hardly stand myself. But I sure do love that woman. She makes so few demands of me, if she feels better with me stinking, I reckon I’ll do it. Good thing is, I’m not the only one. There’s enough of us wearing the stink that you can’t tell who it is that smells so bad. It might or might not keep the dragons away, but it’ll sure work on everything else. Even Bo and Bess won’t come near me. Glad the planting’s all done.

24.5.42

Well I never. I’m so cross I can’t see straight. Heard that our neighbors over in Greenfield are pushing their elders out of town, sending them out as a kind of offering to the dragons. Said they won’t be caught stinking or using funny parasols—they have the right to go about their lives like normal. Said if the dragons want the elders they can have ‘em, that way they’ll leave the rest of the village alone. Folks tried to tell ‘em it don’t work that way, but they won’t listen. We here in Redfield been taking those elders in for safekeeping. It may put us at higher risk, but with the stink cream and the parasols and everyone staying indoors, we suspect to be OK.

27.5.42

Got a nasty splinter while making stakes for the tomatoes. Mae Ella got most of it, but couldn’t get the last sliver. Elder Roy made up a paste to draw it out. I wonder what other useful things he’s got stored up in that head of his.

28.5.42

No market this week. Working the land with my parasol contraption close by. It’s a bit unnerving, having to watch and listen so close while I work, but I got to keep the farm going.

30.5.42

Folks is growing restless, what with being cooped up with the stink and all. The inn’s closed, and the taverns, too, and no one’s meeting in the square. I only leave to tend to my animals, and poor Mae Ella hardly leaves at all. It’s hard to see that sweet blossom withering on the vine, but she’s determined to take good care of the three elders we got staying with us. To pass the time we all tell stories of an evening. I’ve been amazed to hear what they’ve seen in their day, but it’s nothing like the dragons. They’ve never lived anything like this.

2.6.42

The dragons are at Greenfield. Maker have mercy. Some from town went to see if they could help, to carry them some cream and a few extra parasols, but it was too late. The cloud had already covered the village. We could see flashes of fire out west in the early morning hours before the sun was up. It’s eerily quiet here—no birds or chitterin, no wagons or talking. Everyone’s locked up tight now, just waiting.

4.6.42

The dragons passed us by. I’ve never been so scared in my life. We been spread out in the house, not more than two together, and all of us under parasols as much as possible. Only sound I heard for two days was a baby crying down the street and the animals restless in the barn. No one knows when they’ll be back or exactly why they kept going, but we’re all breathing careful tonight.

5.6.42

Still no sign of dragons here, but no one goes outside unless they need to. Taking every precaution. Got word from Greenfield today—the whole village is in mourning, hardly a family untouched. Some dead, some suffering burns, a couple houses charred to a crisp. Someone sent word thanking us for saving their elders from such a fate. The elders are mourning, though. They’ve lost more than most.

8.6.42

Been at Greenfield for two days, helping to clean up the remains. Mae Ella sent me off with baskets of food and all the extra stink cream she could spare. Only seven of us made the trip from Redfield, but we didn’t walk together for fear of drawing the dragons back. It was a lonely journey. I’ve worked so hard the last two days I ache in places I’d forgotten about, but I was determined to get home to my sweet Mae Ella soon as I could.

11.6.42

The elders have decided to return home. Greenfielders are staying indoors now and using all the stink cream and parasols they can get, and they’re in sore need of their elders. I’m mighty proud of the folks from our village who are stepping up to help and donating what they can. A few old misers in town are more interested in being right and teaching them a lesson, but I say that that poor village has suffered their folly enough without anybody else heaping coal on the fire. The ones of us who went to help the other day saw that plain enough.

12.6.42

Weeded the garden. Caught a glimpse of the firstfruits.

15.6.42

There’s a new normal around here. We live every day with the threat of dragons (word still comes of villages hit near and far) but we’ve been fortunate. Hard not to let our guard down when the skies are so clear. But we all care about each other too much to be careless. Even the ones that was skeptical are taking up parasols now that it’s hit so close to home. Some of the ladies done gone to painting theirs, making it a new kind of fashionable thing. I got to say I don’t mind it so much. Those little spots of color—like the zinnias that popped up in Mae Ella’s flower bed—just brighten up the place and help it not to feel so dark and dreary. Eventually the dragons will come—I can feel it in my bones—but that don’t mean we can’t take care of what’s here right now. If Mae Ella’s taught me anything in all my years with her, it’s that. We got work to do.

Rachel Donahue

Rachel Donahue

Rachel S. Donahue holds a B.A. in English and Bible from Welch College in Nashville, TN, and has more than eleven years’ experience changing diapers. She and her husband, Mick, previously lived and worked in Spain serving people groups at risk of marginalization. They now live near Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’re both involved in the family greenhouse business while raising three sprightly boys and a sweet-as-pie little girl. Visit her website/blog at www.thedonahuedaily.com.

Her book, 
Real Poems for Real Moms: from a Mother in the Trenches to Another, can also be found on Amazon or bookshop.org.

Summer of Faerie: “Winds of Change” by Matthew Cyr

Faerie Wind

It’s the end of May and beginning of June: one of my favorite times of year, when purple lilacs bloom, the new leaves rustle in warm winds, and it’s hot and bright enough to put on sunscreen and enjoy its cool, thick smell.

These days at the lake have “slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely” (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). I’ve had the undeserved luxury of hiking in the green mountains, paddle boarding during my lunch hour, a few frigid swims, and continuing to research fairy tales and folklore for the Summer of Faerie project. I hope to post more about this later, but for now, I have found a few treasures:

  • Kate Forrester’s Celtic Tales, a collection of British, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish legends with gorgeous silhouette illustrations
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Mythopoeia,” a poem I had heard of but not read (and do not fully understand yet)
  • Angelina Stanford’s fascinating research on how fairy tales retell the Gospel

This week’s Summer of Faerie post is a piece by Matthew Cyr, whose masterful craftsmanship I first encountered in The Cultivating Project (a seasonal online journal). Matthew’s prose reminds me of an enchanted forest, with layers of vivid imagery and root-deep musings that leave me pondering for days. This short-short story explores some of the strangeness and mystery of the world of fairy tales.

Winds of Change

by Matthew Cyr

Eyes closed, head thrown back, Ehelia danced among the maple whirlywings, whirling with them as they fell. Cirigan watched her from where he was seated on a fallen linden trunk, playing a rippling tune on his polished swan’s bone flute. Merriment played on his usually-somber face as he followed Ehelia’s fluid spiraling.

As the breeze quickened and more of the winged seeds took flight, Ehelia swept up those around her and flung them back up to be joined by fresh ones from above. Again she swirled them up as they drifted down to her, and again until the air was awhir with spinning wings that flickered in and out of the dappled sunlight.

In the midst of her laughter something caught at Ehelia’s attention, as if a movement from the corner of her eye or a sound out of place, half-heard. She came to a stop and looked toward the river where it ran unseen behind the yarrow-clad hill.

Cirigan stopped piping. “What is it, Irushili?” He often called her that, Shower of Laughter, instead of her true name, which meant Heartsighted.

Ehelia had no word to give him back, but he followed when she started away toward the river.

Cresting the rise, she could see something heaped down by the water’s edge. She paused, then pushed closer. Cirigan crossed half in front of her and stopped, as did she. It was plainly a body, a figure lying as if spilled from a cup.

“Is that….” he began, without taking his eyes from the thing.

“Yes.” No cloud had passed over, but the sun-washed hilltop seemed to darken for a moment around them.

“I never thought… to find one outside of old tales. An Oulahlain.  How came it here? None have ever been near this place. ” His eyes narrowed slightly. “It still lives.”

Ehelia passed him, only half aware that she was drifting closer to the creature again. Cirigan twitched slightly but didn’t move to block her. She looked and listened and smelled, taking in the crude clothing, the mane of tangled hair, the shallow breaths.

Ehelia’s gaze passed on to the angry red scratches on the arms and legs, as if it had been plunging through thorn and thicket. The figure’s feet had scarcely stopped bleeding into the river as it whispered past. The tears in the thing’s coarse-spun garment looked fresh as well, and some of its shabbiness the mark of recent hard use and weather. 

“She was chased,” Ehelia said quietly.

“She?”

“She is female… and young, as they would reckon age. Little more than a child of her kind.” Ehelia didn’t try to unravel how she came by this surety, but Cirigan had known her long, and accepted it as truth without need of explanation.

“They’re dangerous at any size or age,” Cirigan said. “They all but destroyed our people. So few of us lived to flee here… and now again our place is found out.”

Ehelia made no reply, but the still air around her felt like a closed door. Cirigan turned to her, finally taking his eyes from the slumped creature to press Ehelia with his gaze.

“Where one comes, others will be drawn. If this one is hunted by its own kind, they that follow will be more and worse. They will bring the cold iron that slays our folk.”

Cirigan glanced back at the fallen thing on the riverbank. “Yet for it to return to its kind now might be more ruinous than if it remain. Could be that it will wander ever lost in the wilds instead…or a sleep be placed on it that it never wake.” He fingered the bone flute.

And now Ehelia turned to him. Her eyes, usually the pale green of the moon-moth’s wing, were like sunlight through young beech leaves. The floating tufts of cottonwood silk above the hillside seemed to slow in the air, and the river to further hush itself.

“None other will find its way here that we do not wish, “she said. “Our folk can keep the border.”

Like heat-shimmer off a sun-baked rock, she could feel the uncertainty rising from him, mingled with shame: none of their people would think to end a living thing before its time, but he had voiced the nearest deed to that.

“We must tell the others,” Cirigan said, his tone more subdued but still stubborn around the edges. “All must decide.”

Ehelia glided even closer to the strange figure till she hovered just over it. Under the burrs and dirt, the sleeper’s hair was ruddy-gold like a kingfisher’s breast, and fell across her eyes, hiding them.

The forest seemed to breathe again. Ehelia had made her decision. The breeze now wafted the cottonwood wisps into the river, which carried them past and on out of sight. A lift of air drew the sleeper’s hair away from her face, revealing a pale brow and lidded eyes. Oulahlain. The Unseeing Ones.

Soft, soft, like the feathered touch of a month’s antennae, Ehelia brushed the stranger’s eyelids with her fingertips. She whispered a few words that hung glistening in the air, like dewdrops on spider threads.

She knew without looking that Cirigan had vanished, as the figure shivered and its eyes sprang open. Eyes little less green than Ehelia’s own. The wakened creature drew back at the sight of her.

“Be at peace, Daughter of Man,” Ehelia said. “You are watched over, and none shall harm you here.”

Matthew Cyr

Matthew Cyr

Once upon a time, Matthew Cyr unearthed an ancient-looking early edition of The Hobbit in his elementary school library and has been wandering in Middle Earth ever since. He has a hobbitish appetite and prefers to keep a good book in one hand and good food in the other. Matthew is fascinated by the power of story to awaken us to redemptive Truth. Several years ago he took up a quest to own and read every book ever published by C.S. Lewis. He shares his home with his wife and daughter, three cats, and a smallish serpent who has thus far never instigated the consumption of prohibited produce. Some of Matthew’s writings can be found at thecultivatingproject.com.

Summer of Faerie: “Housing Problems” by AJ Vanderhorst

Spring has fallen upon us all at once this week: gray clouds have melted into clear skies, bright green leaves have filled up the woods, and the temperatures jumped from the 50s to the 80s. For me, this Memorial Day weekend is the real beginning of summer, when lawnmowers roar to life, lilacs fill the air with sweetness, and the heat of the sun fills your winter-harrowed soul.

After enjoying several creative collaboration projects with other writers for Thanksgiving and late winter, I wanted to do something fun for this summer. I toyed with a few ideas, but finally settled on a project called Summer of Faerie that was born from my love for fantasy and fairy tales. 

For this Summer of Faerie project, I gave some fellow writers from The Habit the following prompt, inviting them to contribute: 

  • Short, prose fairy tale retellings
  • Faerie/fairy tale-themed poetry
  • Creative nonfiction about fairy tales in general

I had three suggestions for these works: 

  • Consider focusing on something other than romance.
  • Consider mythologizing your own region through this work – how can your hometown or city be just as magical as a castle on a mountain or tower in the wilderness?
  • Consider how we can meditate on the Gospel through thinking about fairy tales. G.K. Chesterton argued that “conditions” of fairy tales teach us a “The Doctrine of Conditional Joy” that parallels the truth of the Bible: “A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.” (I’m quoting his weird and wonderful essay, “The Ethics of Elfland,” in his book Orthodoxy.)

Several writer-friends responded to the challenge, and the contributions so far have dazzled me. One of the first contributors was AJ Vanderhorst, who just released an amazing novel, The Mostly Invisible Boy. Enjoy!

Housing Problems

by AJ Vanderhorst

Hands holding teeth

Two parents with too many hobbies. Two parents with four crazy, precocious boys. We overlooked the low sales price. We overlooked a lot. We were a little desperate, well, more than a little. We needed someplace big and HOA-free and durable—and fast.

The missing background didn’t bother me at first and I’m a journalist at the Kansas City Star. At least I used to be. Go on, laugh. These things have a way of creeping up on you.

The house’s previous owner, a genial, raisin-skinned gentleman who gave you the impression of holding nothing back, told us the sprawling four-story place was built in 1915. We believed him. Not that we cared, because the house was gorgeous. Dwell Magazine with vintage swagger. You felt taller just standing in the shade of its colonnades. 

By the time I got around to checking, the origin story proved impossible to verify. No records on micro-fiche. No permits at KC Planning & Development—not that they looked very hard. For a while I dug around in the basement, hoping to find old documents in a forgotten corner. Believe me, there were plenty of those. 

Forgotten corners, I mean.  

When we knocked down nonstructural walls, which happened a couple times as we got moved in, I’d scan each yellowed page of newsprint while the kids sifted dust for arrowheads and shark teeth. Nothing.

Sometimes the clue you need is staring you in the face. In this case, the clue was: nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

Plenty of dirt on everyone else though. One rabbit trail through KC history gave me an inside track on the next door neighbors. They’d been accused of witchcraft in 1740, which, reading between the lines, was code for “really big jerks we don’t want at the barbecue.” That family is still here and they’re still obnoxious and I can totally see it. 

In 1911 someone’s rooster got blasted with a shotgun and buried in concrete for crowing at 4:59 instead of 5 am. I can’t help feeling neighborhood news has become a lot less interesting.

In the more recent past, I learned how mob “Boss Tom” Pendergast got his claws in the KC Code Department—and made it so crooked that today it still can’t stop citing and snickering long enough to look you in the face. 

But I found nothing on our cavernous brick house. Only the growing feeling, as I walked its wide staircases and traced the shadows of its vaulted ceilings, that it wasn’t normal. Which was fine at first. Because downtown thought our family, with its size and irrepressibility, was pretty weird too.

I formed a theory that an exasperated realtor had pulled the 1915 date out of thin air and slapped it on his deed of sale. There were no records of the behemoth’s original use. No tales of mobs it’d outlasted with its quintuple-thick walls. No reason given for its many secret crawl spaces. The deep gouges in its irreplaceable timber floors. Or its poured concrete roof. 

At the time, my most intriguing find was a sentence from an 1875 account of Kansas City’s stockyards: “The beef barons shipped their assets on the hoof, and herds of cattle, sheep and pigs overran the West Bottoms daily. This was a stark contrast to the more exotic, costly creatures that were rumored to arrive on the riverfront under cover of darkness.”

The “news” story gave me a prickly feeling behind my eyes. The feeling was hard to pin down as it scurried along my bones. I labeled it curiosity and tried to forget it. Curiosity isn’t usually so nagging. It doesn’t usually cause you to turn on extra lights and stay up late at night. 

But the story appeared next to an ad for “MAGIC medicinal TONIC for the FORTIFICATION of boys, girls and calves.” So I felt justified in dismissing it, or trying to. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I know this was my first mistake. Snobbery toward old news—news I stupidly wrote off because I could associate it with hoaxes.

Before everything happened, people often asked me for advice (free of course) about buying and fixing up old houses. Now, as the sun hangs in the middle of the sky and cocktail hour approaches, I know what I should’ve told them:

“Yeah, remodeling physical history is a nasty beast. But let’s step back. How old is the place? Is it too big? Just…Way. Too. Big? In a strange Hitchcockian way that gnaws at you slowly, offending your sense of proportion? Are there too many fireplaces? Do the quiet, twisting hallways send centipedes down your spine?”

That’s all the free advice I’d offer. But if they could afford to pay me for my time…and my scars…and my abrupt career change, I’d say:

Dragons. It just might be dragons. So point me in their direction and get out of the way. 

Business card for a Dragon Agency

AJ Vanderhorst

AJ Vanderhorst is a husband, dad and author who loves barbecue, as do all right-thinking people. His relationship with monsters is long and complicated. Visit him online at ajvanderhorst.com.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part VII: Guest Post by Elizabeth Giger

When the wheel of the year turned towards March, I expected storms, sleet, slush, and long gray days that seemed to last centuries. Instead, I received warm, golden days, cool rain and bright snow, and a global storm that made the month spin by like a pinwheel. When Elizabeth Giger first presented this beautiful contribution to my Magic of Late Winter series in late February, neither of us knew how perfectly it would fit these strange, turbulent times.

Elizabeth Giger is another writer-friend from The Habit community whose writing style has the sweet, profound clarity of a church bell ringing. Her work reminds me that in Christ, joy, hope, and truth are all one reality. Enjoy!

The Reality of Spring

Text and pictures by Elizabeth Giger

Reality.

All of creation conspires to teach us what is real. When God created, He carefully crafted the laws of nature to point toward reality.

Every growing seed points to the reality that we must die in order to bear fruit. Every autumn leaf points to the reality that in dying to ourselves, our true colors burst forth. Every new birth points to the reality that new life comes only after great labor pains.

All of creation shouts out God’s beautiful reality.

Today, as I look out the window on a day at the end of March and see this:

I am considering the reality that when the calendar says it is spring, when the crocus first peeps up from the ground, it is truly spring, even when it still feels like winter.

It still feels like winter in my own little world. The snows still hush the sounds outside my window. The skies still hold that steely winter-gray. There is even a certain smell that comes with the cold and the stilling of growth.

It still feels like winter in our larger world. As refugees stream out of war-torn countries, as friends fight deadly diseases, as families continue to grieve beloved ones who have died, it still feels like winter to me.

And yet.

I sit here on a Monday in March, contemplating the Holy Week that is coming soon:

The road into Jerusalem which led to the giving of bread and wine, a desperate prayer in a garden, the cross. The ghastliness of Holy Saturday and the knowledge that God was dead.

And then.

A weighty boulder moved easy like a feather. An angel wondering at anyone presuming to find Jesus in a tomb. A familiar voice: Mary.

Jesus.

Alive.

Resurrection.

And suddenly I understand what I am truly seeing out of my window on this day at the end of March, when the crocuses have peeped out their heads and yet snow lays heavy on the ground.

Spring is here.

It requires that I open my eyes to see what is really there. It requires stooping low to the earth. It requires being still.

It is the same reality that we see all around us in our larger world when we open our eyes, stoop low, and be still. The reality that the tide has turned, that despite the battle raging all around, the war has ended and God’s Spirit is little by little warming the air and thawing our hearts.

How can we be sure that God’s kingdom truly has come? How can we be sure that God has won the war and decisively defeated sin and death when we still see sin and death raging all around us?

The resurrection is our confirmation.

Yes, it may still feel like winter all around,

but the resurrection is our crocus.

Spring is really here.

Picture of Elizabeth Giger

Elizabeth Giger

Elizabeth is a writer and musician, writing weekly at MadeSacred.com. She holds a Certificate of Spiritual Formation from Lincoln Christian University. She also loves photography and art and enjoys weaving together words with visual art on her blog to create something new. She is a wife to her logical, programmer husband, a mother to four intense, warrior girls, a homeschooler, and a midwest girl who loves the sight of golden fields stretching to the horizon. She neglects housework in favor of reading as many books as she can get her hands on and loves to travel the world. 

The Magic of Late Winter, Part VI: Guest Post by Hope Henchey

Pictures by Hope Henchey

Friends, the natural world is changing from gray to green, chilly to warm, frozen to refreshed, but it feels like the human world has gone mad. This pandemic has reshuffled the cards of our lives. I pray for those who are sick, grieving, afraid, jobless, homebound, or lonely.

In the midst of grief and fear, I remember an ancient truth: the God who sits above the circle of the earth and inhabits eternity is our refuge – in pandemics or prosperity, peace or war.

The LORD God is our stronghold. I hope to honor Him by seeking joy in dark places and pursuing beauty through these gray days. Therefore, I am going ahead with the next installment of my Magic of Late Winter series, a guest post by Hope Henchey about late winter in Florida.

Hope’s meditation on the beauty and transience of this season in Florida stirred me like a dream of summer in the midst of winter. I love how she captures this season’s precious, fierce, fragile joy. Enjoy!

March in Florida: The Last Days of the Shire

Text and pictures by Hope Henchey

I’m a season snob, I’ll admit it.

If you ask my opinion of living in Florida for 22 years, the answer you get will vary widely depending on what month it is. You should ask in a month like March.

Those who live in colder climates might look to March with hopefulness of sunny days and fresh air. As a Floridian, however, I’ve already been enjoying sunny days and fresh air for the past few months, so I cling to March tightly as I watch the last specks of sand drizzle through the hourglass, signaling the season when my Shire will transform into Mordor.

March is so, so lovely. It’s the tail-end of strawberry season, which means those delicious berries are cheap, plenteous, and ruby-red ripe. Since we live only five minutes from strawberry fields, we actually eat strawberries at every meal. To continue with Lord of the Rings imagery, I devour strawberries in the same way the steward of Gondor murderously eats tomatoes. The juice drips from my chin like blood, but I don’t even care. It’s glorious.

March is a month when mosquitoes (“our state bird”, as we say) are still mostly gone, and the air is cool enough to enjoy all the local rivers, trees, and beaches. My favorite beach is Siesta Key, where the sand truly looks and feels like powdered sugar. Nearby is the gorgeous John and Mable Ringling Museum and Estate (yes, the circus guy) where my daughters enjoy savoring aromas in Florida’s oldest rose garden. On the way home, we like to stop by a delightful orange grove that sells soft-serve frozen orange juice. March days are full of such adventures.

Though we still might get sunburned if we’re outside more than ten minutes, the big ol’ Star seems more like friend than foe in months like these.

There is, of course, an uneasiness that pulls at my sleeve in March. I know that the hot half of the year is hurtling toward us, with its bugs and crowds and threats of heatstroke. Especially since I’m entering my fifth pregnant summer in nine years, I know that I have months of difficult breathing ahead since my organs get all squished up, yet the fourth-most humid city in America doesn’t seem to care. Even walking to my car feels like I’m underwater in a 100-degree pool. I dread that feeling so much.

But that’s the thing with seasons, isn’t it? We don’t get to control them. Unless we have the flexibility to chase around good weather, we don’t get to pick what season we’re in. I wish strawberries were always cheap and ripe, but the plants must die and be replanted and grow from seeds again. I wish the air could always feel fresh and delightful, but heat and humidity must come.

If I could customize seasons of life by sheer will, I would cut out a lot of the things going on in my life right now, issues that are heavier than hot weather or lack of berries. But the world is broken, and God has given me limits. I can receive each season as the blessing it is, given by God for His glory and my good.

There’s beauty in every season. Even summer holds things I love such as mighty yet calming lightning storms, Vacation Bible School, and lower prices on grapes. But while it’s still March, I’ll enjoy every last moment of blowing bubbles in our yard and gator-watching at Lettuce Lake Park and meandering downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk.

I thank Him for this season and trust Him for the next.

Bio picture of Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey lives in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida with her husband and four kids (fifth on the way!) She writes on her blog and microblogs on Instagram about homeschooling, RV living, theology, childbirth, and more @called.beloved.kept and @lightingfireshomeschool. She has written for Christianity Today and Daughter of Delight.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part V: Mist Maker

Mist on a pond
Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

After a few weeks of delightful guest posts by Kimberly Margaret Miller, Loren Warnemuende, Reagan Dregge and Kristen Kopp, and Bethany J. Melton, here is my late winter story. I wrote it for the weather I dread the most – cold rain falling on melting snow, leafless trees, gray skies, and slushy streets – not knowing how golden and warm this March would be.

I rewrote the story to match this year’s milder weather. I post this in the middle of a pandemic that is shuttering gatherings and separating communities, scaring parents and (I hope) thrilling at least a few kids who suddenly have two free weeks to hunt purple crocuses and golden daffodils in the woods.

I post this now knowing that in fear or gloominess, boredom or grief, gray winter days or slushy spring mornings, the same God who spoke light out of darkness can speak joy and courage into us.

Mist Maker

On the quiet street, cold rain speckled the pale lawns and ran down the gutters of the shingled houses. Mist hung between the bare gray branches of oaks and thick robes of evergreens.

Inside a white house with black shutters in the middle of the street, Mae sat in the family room downstairs, leaning over her laptop. She wore a dark blue sorority sweatshirt. Her curly blond hair was tied up in a messy bun, and she wore a gold necklace hung with small pink beads.

On her laptop screen, Mae clicked on the field next to YEARS OF RELATED WORK EXPERIENCE and entered a “0.”

Her email inbox lit up. She opened the email from a company she’d applied to three weeks ago: 

Dear Ms. Newman,

Thank you for your interest in the Project Manager position. We have decided to pursue a candidate whose qualifications are more suited to our requirements.

Sincerely,

Hiring Manager
New England Design Co.

Mae stared at the email for a moment, and then opened an Excel spreadsheet labeled “Jobs” and colored row #19 in gray.

Upstairs, a baby wailed. A door opened, and Mae heard her sister’s low, soothing tones. A moment later, a light set of footsteps pattered down the stairs, and her niece, Rachel, came in. She wore a red sweater with a picture of a brown bear, and her ash-blond hair was half-braided.

“Sammy’s crying,” she announced. “Mommy said to come ask you to watch me.” 

Mae put down her laptop. “Poor little guy,” she said. She looked down at her laptop, and then outside. “Wanna come on a walk with me?” 

Rachel looked out the window and wrinkled her nose. “It’s gross out,” she said.

“Nah, this is one of the best times of the year,” said Mae, getting up and setting her laptop on the coffee table. “I’ll show you.” 

After bundling up, they left the garage and squelched through the backyard, through the back gate and into the woods.

Mae let her big hood slip off so the rain fell freely on her hair and face. “Your mom and I used to pretend we were mermaids when we got our hair wet,” she told Rachel, who giggled. 

The woods had barely changed since Mae left for college: the ashes of autumnal bonfires in center of the clearing, the stump full of woodpecker holes, and the leaning fir they called Old Giant. Sticks and golden-brown pine needles littered the ground. 

Mae took Rachel on the old path through the thicket of leafless thorn and blueberry bushes, green and gray, spreading like waves across the peaks and gullies of the forest floor. She pointed out memory-haunts: “We used to hunt for letter boxes with the Flame-wings under those logs. We built a fort around that tree. Here’s where we played bows and arrows with the Green Singers…”

Rachel asked a few questions, but mostly chattered as they neared the pond. They turned right into the opening in the trees and braced their feet against tree roots to get safely down the hill.

The spruces and oak trees were shades of brown, light green, and gray around the still surface of the pond. The water was dark, half-covered with a thin layer of ice melted into slush. 

“Come see,” Mae said, gesturing to Rachel. She led her niece to the pond’s edge, where tree roots stuck out from the eroded earth and disappeared into the water. 

From this angle, they could see a misty shape above the ice: a castle with spiked towers like the tops of pine trees.

“Oh,” said Rachel. 

“It’s a reverse reflection,” said Mae. “The real castle is underneath. The Lily Queen let us swim down there sometimes to see it.” 

“Can we…?” Rachel asked, looking from Mae to the pond.

“No, sweetheart, it’s too cold to swim,” said Mae. “But if we’re quiet, the Mist Maker will put on a show for us.” 

Rachel took in a low, excited breath and held it. Mae squeezed her hand as new shapes formed above the pond: two girls chasing creatures like winged foxes, a fir tree transforming into a tower, a boy riding a sea serpent.

They watched things remembered or longed for rising from the warming air, the melting ice, the thawing soil, the waking earth.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part IV: Guest Post by Bethany J. Melton

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Late winter here in New England has been much milder than past years – dry and golden, with some warm days that bring hints of spring. Until the vernal equinox, however (I love the sound of those words together!) I don’t want to let myself celebrate yet. I want to soak in the beauty of chilly nights and bare trees while it lasts.

This post is by Bethany J. Melton, a writer from the Midwest whose words have the quiet, meditative beauty of morning mist on a lake. Bethany reminds me to cherish the time we have now, as the tiniest leaf-buds begin to swell on the trees and the last snow-mountains dwindle.

Thank You, Winter Woods

by Bethany J. Melton

I walked fast enough that the March rain didn’t seep deep into my skin; slow enough that I didn’t miss the beads on every winter limb. I’d said, “Only up the hill and back,” but the neighborhood was asleep in the mist this afternoon and I smiled into its silence.

I took Edgewood to its end—the circle turn-around encircled by forest. The woods breathed in the rain and I breathed in the woods. Wet leaves and sweet bark. I stopped when a bubble slipped from a limb and ran down my finger. I rubbed the water into my palm—a bit of March to carry home.

It’s me and the trees at Edgewood’s end and they lean in, their limbs entangled overhead. They’re naked and they know it. Like a rude onlooker, I’m gawking. I can see every knot, every crook, every vine. Some limbs are black and blunt against the white sky. Others are spindly.

All are motionless, waiting for me to pass.

I do, finally, and leave them their privacy—the privacy of the wood and a dripping creek and staring squirrels. It’s a privacy I sometimes crave, too.

Thank you, March trees.

We can tell every tree in winter without reference to foliage by its mode of growth. So study them, in some spare moments… They will repay—they are in the right place as beautiful as rocks. They have a nobility of growth which is usually entirely overlooked.
– Beatrix Potter

Bethany J. Melton

To read more of Bethany’s writing, visit her blog, Bethany J’s Journal.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part III: Guest Post by Reagan Dregge and Kristen Kopp

Sunset over snow-covered trees
Photo by Kristen Kopp

This blog series on the magic of late winter has been a cross-country exploration of regional beauty – Kimberly Margaret Miller gave me a glimpse of winter sunlight in the deep South, and Loren Warnemuende showed me the snow and flowering dogwoods of southeast Michigan. This week’s post is written by Reagan Dregge, with pictures by Kristen Kopp. These writers are from Minnesota, the prairie, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent a year On the Banks of Plum Creek and temperatures can drop to -30 degrees Fahrenheit in winter (wind chill can drop to -68 degrees).

Reagan Dregge‘s breathtaking imagery reminds me that we live in a world of wonders, a place just as wild and magical as Faerie. Kristen Kopp‘s images remind me to open my eyes to the beauty of the ordinary, the precious gift of snow and sunlight, leaf and sky. Enjoy!

Winter Magic

by Reagan Dregge
pictures by Kristen Kopp

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.
Annie Dillard

By late winter the air is scorched ice. The snowscape is sucked dry, colorless. Lungs burn. Skin stings. The ground is a slick slab of sheer adamant. Frost laces windowpanes like fractures into faerie. The frozen world is transparent. I can see through every stilled molecule, through trees that crack the sky, through the thin atmosphere all the way to the Milky Way wrapped like a scarf around our galaxy. The frigid stars blaze bright and sharp. I imagine standing on the surface of the moon. The constellations spin above in dazzling clarity.

Have you beheld a sundog-flanked dawn? The sun, shattered into shards? Three fire pillars pierce the cobalt firmament, diamond guardians of earth’s rim, or an archangel with two swords barring reentry into paradise? On winter evenings, neons melt on the horizon. Charged particles scatter solar flame. Unnamed, unnumbered hues are born in the bent beams, next to which rainbows are a faded polaroid.

Bitter winds writhe and moan across the plains. Windows rattle, porch bells ring. The shrill surgeon slashes and severs, casting withered sticks and shriveled limbs across the brittle bier beneath attending silver maples. Huddled hedges offer brief respite from the biting chill. Fog’s froth condenses and crystallizes, coating every stem, twig, and chain link with rime ice armor. Glass-sheathed grass sheaves gather at the edge of ditches. Lake waves freeze into a gleaming fleet of fairy sails. The cold cuts words short, and they drop to the ground like bubbles blown in subzero temps or evaporate instantaneously like a pot of boiling water thrown into the air. Weather fluctuations can be detected in the length of icicles dangling from every lip and gable, dripping into their own trenches or dropping like grenades in the night.

Spread out under an open sky the snow sparkles like champagne, and in the crisp gold light a toast is raised. Blizzards blow across the plains, covering forest and field with mountainous shifting drifts. The polar vortex unfurls its coffers and foams forth layer after layer over the bounding breadth. Clusters of vapor flurry and fall, spun and splintered and studded. No two alike, each flake a delicate intricacy. They melt the moment they touch tongue or alight eyelash, existing brief as a breath, fleeting as a flower. From wet heft to pellet sleet, snow’s forms are as bottomless as Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. The sounds of my walk down our quarter-mile driveway change with every day: creak, crunch, slurp, slush, swish, sweep, whisper-soft absorption.

Deep within the frozen earth, amphibians sleep in soundless stasis. Bird and butterfly have long since flown south, but woodpeckers and white-tailed deer remain, subsisting on bark and acorns. Rabbits and mice trace patterns in the morning dusting. I once saw a hawk’s wingprint stamped in a snowbank. Wisdom and miracle abound in this stark and solitary season.

To those who find winter blank and monotonous: you must write your psalm and I must write mine. There is glory hidden in the gray—look for it when the cold burns and the light dims. Look, and you will find winter crowning the year, robed in alabaster, strewn with rubies, fragrant as juniper, fresh as citrus, warm as cinnamon.

Reagan Dregge and her family

Reagan Dregge
Reagan loves names and words and stories. She once studied creative writing and theatre arts, but today she homeschools, writes handwritten letters, and salvages her own little house on the prairie with a husband, daughter, and multiplying menagerie (one cat, two dogs, a dwarf netherland rabbit, and a small flock of chickens). Her favorite seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall. Follow her blog, The Grace Book, to read more of her work.

Kristen Kopp

Kristen Kopp
Kristen lives in a cottage on the prairies of Southern Minnesota. She works in her local Community Development Department by day and spends the rest of her time wandering in the woods, writing letters, and gathering with friends and family to share meals and play board games. Follow her on Instagram at @kristenannakopp.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part I: Guest Post by Kimberly Margaret Miller

Mug in a bright window.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As I posted about last year, late February through March are usually the hardest time of year for me: the glitter of the holidays is long gone, the snow turns to slush, and New England is a mess of gray fog and ice storms. Crocuses and warm winds take a long time to arrive.

This year, however, my own writing and engagement on The Habit (an online writing community) have reminded that me that I live in a world of wonders created by an almighty God, and my art gives me the power to perceive and create beauty in the grayest places.

Some of my favorite writers have already done the work of re-enchanting this season, transforming it from depressing to mysteriously beautiful: Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights, James Hogg in Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Seamus Heaney in “Glanmore Sonnets,” and others.

So I want to approach this late winter season with a spirit of joy and wonder. This blog series will explore the magic of late winter and very early spring: pearl-gray skies, silver-white ice on the dark surface of ponds, rain-speckled snow, damp winds that spread the smell of wet soil, rain-speckled snow, birdsong on misty mornings.

For this project, I’m partnering with some wonderful writer-friends from The Habit, as I did last Thanksgiving. First, Kimberly Margaret Miller graciously let me repost this exquisite poem from her blog, a meditation on winter sunlight. Kim lives in the deep South, which doesn’t usually receive heavy snows, but can be gloomy with “short days, barren trees, and overcast skies.” 

This poem originally appeared on Kimberly’s blog.

Winter Sun

Your beams stretch,
            Arms beckoning,
a final embrace as you bid adieu.
Reaching, leaning, tilting
                        You scatter color
across the bleak horizon.
Then you are gone.
            Longing fills.
                        Cold darkness envelopes.
                                    I forget.

My alarm pulses.
            Shuffling through routine with half open eyes,
                        Morning tea in hand,
I pull back the curtain.
I wasn’t looking for you,
                        But there you are.
                                    Waiting for me to behold.
                                                Your quiet grandeur
whispered in hues of pink and purple.
                        I stand and listen with rapt attention.                                   
And suddenly, I awake.

Leash in hand, I walk Curiosity—
            The chase is on.
                        Weaving through bare trees
you pursue,
                                    Streaming brilliance.
        Stopping in my tracks,
I think of night.
                                  And already I miss you.

Your arms stretch,
            Across beams,
no final embrace as you bid adieu.
Reaching, leaning, tilting
            You scatter crimson
across bleakness within.
Then night comes.
            Longing fills.
                        Cold darkness envelopes.
                                    I forget.

My hunger craves.
            I shuffle through my days with half-open eyes.
You pull back the curtain.
I am not looking for you,
                                    But there you are,
                                                Waiting for me to behold.
                                                            Your quiet grandeur
whispers in hues of love and peace.
                I stand and listen with rapt attention.
                              And suddenly, I awaken.

The Day is at hand, I walk forward.
            The chase is on.
                        Weaving through barren places
you pursue,
                                                Streaming brilliance.
            Stopping in my tracks,
I think of night.
                                    And already I know
You will never leave.

Picture of Kimberly Margaret Miller

Kimberly M. Miller is a writer, wife of 28 years, mother to four children, and granna to one amazing little boy. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism in 1991 from Mississippi University for Women where she served as editor of The Spectator for two years. Kim’s writing has ranged from advertising copy and press releases to short stories and essays. Since retiring from 24 years as a homeschool mom, she’s devoted her time to honing the craft of fiction writing. Her current work-in-progress is a historical novel set in Mississippi in 1834.

The Magic of the Ordinary

New York City skyline in the glow of sunset.

Nurtured by books like The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, I used to believe that modern technology has no place in literature. Medieval technology such as swords and ploughs, and maybe even Industrial Revolution technology like trains and mills, were acceptable, but nothing later than 1920s-era technology belonged in books.

My logic for this assumption ran deep into my beliefs about stories. I believed that stories were the exclusive realm of the mythical and the wonderful: ancient forests, splendid castles, beautiful princesses, and so on. As an avenue of the imagination, stories should be above the minor, ugly details of life, like technology.

This subconscious assumption ignored the wonderful details of ordinary life which Lewis, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Edward Eager, Edward Ormondroyd, E. Nesbit, and others use. In Lewis’s Prince Caspian, Edmund remarks that being summoned from England by a spell without warning is “worse than what father says about being at the mercy of the telephone.” Ormondroyd uses an elevator as a key part of his Time at the Top

Mentioning current technology also gives stories the precious stamp of regionalism – memorializing a certain place and time so readers can visit it. Now, I love tasting the flavor of past decades through references to slates and record albums.

My assumption also glossed over the very real fact that swords and ploughs, trains and mills were just as boring and ordinary to our predecessors as subways and cell phones are to us. For all their mythology, swords are really just romanticized pieces of metal.

G.K. Chesterton explains this phenomenon of ignoring the romance of the present with reference to modern-day detective stories. He praised detective stories for capturing

. . . some sense of the poetry of modern life. Men lived among mighty mountains and eternal forests for ages before they realized that they were poetical; it may reasonably be inferred that some of our descendants may see the chimney-pots as rich a purple as the mountain-peaks, and find the lamp-posts as old and natural as the trees. (from here)

The storytellers from whom the Grimm brothers gleaned their material wove their tales with commonplace objects. Spindles are immortal because of Sleeping Beauty, but they were as normal as cars or coffee pots to the people who used them daily.

Chesterton’s perspective reveals the amazing possibilities of our world. We don’t need to reuse crowns and Gothic castles to spice up our stories (at least, not all the time). Why not mythologize Brooklyn apartments and Iphones? 

The technology of our day has near-magical capabilities. Google puts a world of knowledge at our fingertips; planes let us fly over thousands of miles in a single day.

With that in mind, I’ve put some story ideas below which realize a few possibilities of modern technology, the way fairy tales used magic rings or carpets:

  • Glitch in one particular Iphone which lets the user call other dimensions
  • Car (specific make and model) with a radio which begins receiving messages for help from another world/time
  • Computer virus which spreads a real, biological virus via the Internet
  • Windmills which were made not to generate clean energy, but to guard against holes in Earth’s magical atmospheric shield
  • Subway train which gets lost and discovers a network of caves full of secrets (treasure, ancient warnings about disasters, lost civilizations, etc.)
  • Stopwatch which begins to count down the days/hours/minutes until the next terrorist attack
  • Energy beings (aliens?) which communicate with the entire country using the powerlines