I step out on to the deck and take a deep breath. The breeze, brisk but mild, brings no scent of flower or bough, but only the sound of the wind chimes dangling and dancing in the white light of morning. The wet towels I have shaken out into limp flags are draped over the railings of the deck and by noon they will be dry and sun-rough.
It has been a busy few weeks. A schedule full of good things, good times, people I love. But I am tired. I am, like Martha, careful and troubled about many things. I am glad for a Saturday on which no one is expecting me to be anywhere, to do anything.
The plan is to engage my body, not my mind — weed the perennials, dead-head the lilies, edge the ivy that threatens to overtake the corner of the carport. I smear a little sunscreen over my cheeks, stuff my hair up into the new pink baseball cap and pull the stained gardening gloves over fingernails that I suddenly realize are in serious need of attention.
That’s when I notice it. The fairy path. Wending its way from under the low drooping branches of the sycamore tree across the back yard toward the cornfield, a clearly curving line of irregularly spaced and oddly shaped mushrooms. Several the size of large buttons, a couple as big as a demitasse cup. Three huddled together like matryoshka dolls.
According to the folklore of the Celtic peoples, fairy paths are routes taken by fairies between geographical sites of significance — fairy forts and mountains, streams, thorn bushes, ancient stone monuments — and must not be obstructed by human construction. If one’s home is built on a fairy path, the doors and windows must be kept open at night to allow the fairies to pass through and the consequences of not doing so are grave. Sometimes, it is said, a fairy path, which is usually invisible, can be identified by a strip of grass across a field that is a different color green from the rest. And sometimes, as in this case, the fairy path or a fairy ring (used for dancing) becomes visible by the appearance of mushrooms.
I am intrigued. No. That is not right. I am mesmerized. I stand so still and so quietly that I stop hearing the wind chimes, the rustle of leaves, the birds in the branch. But there are things to do. Perennials to be weeded. Lilies to be dead-headed. Ivy to be edged.
I shake my head to break the spell. Kneeling down, my back to the fairy path, I push my hands into the dense green screen that is periwinkle and coreopsis and Russian sage and begin pulling out errant sprigs of grass and clover. There are roots that hold tight to the earth and whose grips will have to be forced loose. I twist and wiggle, dig around the edges, twist and wiggle some more. In my haste I pull too soon and end up with a fist full of stem, the root still in the ground. I sigh with exasperation, rest back on my heels, straighten my tense shoulders.
Weeding, dead-heading, edging must wait.
I have to duck my head to stand under the lowest limbs of the sycamore tree, the spot where the fairy path begins. There is great danger, it is said, associated with traveling a fairy path when it might be in use by the fairies, but there is no danger here. I am quite sure that I have been invited, perhaps even summoned.
Feet together, arms at my side, I take a step and then another. Deliberate steps with pauses between. Careful steps so as not to touch the mushrooms. I follow the curve, realizing as I do that I am walking east toward the still rising sun, away from the shadow of the tree.
And then I am at the end. The point beyond which the path no longer shows me the way.
I stop. Breathe. Shift my stance from attention to parade rest. Realize that I am hearing the wind chimes again, their music joined this time by that of the temple bells hanging in the chinaberry tree. I close my eyes and lift my chin to feel the sun land on my face. Raise my arms, hold them there, suspended between heaven and earth, until my muscles burn and twitch.
When I open my eyes there has been no miraculous extension of the path. I’ve been given no revelation as to where I go from here. No magic decoder ring has been placed upon my finger. But I am different. I am no longer tired. I am troubled about many things. And the entire cornfield, not just one strip, is greener.