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Been Thinkin' About...The Green Man

I drive down the mountain after nightfall. Despite the familiarity of the road, the houses, the street lamps, something is different in the mist and dark. It takes me a moment to realize what has changed. The hardwood trees have leafed into a deep and profound green seemingly over day while I was too busy to notice. Our long cold spring had delayed the oaks, slow to leaf, slow to blossom, slow to unfurl dangling yellow catkins. "Plant your corn when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear," the old saying goes. We may have had extra time on that this year, as nights of cold slowed the growth, holding back the forest until it burgeoned seemingly all at once.


Another turn, another street lamp, cold florescence in the fog, a swirl of something resembling a flower, but composed instead of fog and light, the heart of the flower the cold light, defined edges against a dark of encroaching forest canopy. This springtide forest was speaking night words for the first time this season, speaking dark and ancient things again as it always has. Another turn of blacktop, and another, and the moment is gone, brightness of a Casey's General Store encouraging forgetfulness.


Those lucid moments of dreamlike wakefulness haunt me, whispers of another time and place. The modern era has little time for such thoughts. It's all about the bottom line, all about status, the artifice of title and meaning and getting ahead; just another day, just another dollar. Another social media outrage, another crisis averted. The thoughts in our minds are no longer even our own. We become pawnshop assemblages of national and global fury, thanks to our choices of media.


"Don't forget to leave out cream for the fairies." The turn of the springtide season is just the right time. Leaving out cream would, perhaps, do no good. The neighborhood cats would doubtless beat the fairies to the cream, unless the fairies are quick. To me the fairies are the elemental truths of a metaphysical reality as the forests again come to life. The cats, a barrage of present day thoughts. A shot of whiskey might indeed be better than the cream.


Casey's General Store is bright with artificial light, as is the Dollar General. I stop in for toothpaste. Reality calls, of course. Pulling in home, I look up through the canopy of the silver maple. A bright but waning moon casts a veil through the clouds. The wind shifts, spitting rain. The forest is whispering again. "Animism" is a dirty word these days. We get so uppity we think we're civilized and the idea of plants or rocks or forests or natural phenomena — "inanimate objects" they say — having life is called uncivilized, the lost ideas of some forgotten peoples long ago, far off, somewhere, far away.


But tonight, the Green Man is talking again, low murmurs in the dark air. The forest is alive in shadow as the mist rises and the moon will shine clear and bright in the very early morning black when I let my wayward puppies out to pee. The Green Man walked the forests of the Old World, a nurturing, terrifying figure, promising abundance, fertility, as well as death to the disrespectful. A masculine archetype of a lost era, he represented the wildness, the mysterious shadow, the impossible-to-tame spirit of a land and a people. The Scots-Irish knew the Green Man, as did the early German settlers. He was a reminder that for every ending, there is a beginning. For every death, there is life. For every lost dream, another is reborn. And amid the wildness, the bearded bushiness, the girthy underbelly of life, far from the pristine and the modern and the appropriately tamed, there is yet hope.

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