Persistent Beauty

This essay was originally published at Feminism and Religion.

I knelt beside a sprinkling
of deer fur
dotted with delicate snowflakes.
Don’t take a picture of that,
my husband said,
people will think it is gross.
I don’t find it gross.
I find it curious.
I find it surprising.
I find a story.
Sometimes I feel like
I have to battle a horde
of demonic trolls
before I can take care of myself,
I tell him,
and yet somehow,
I say,
I find my life is still a poem,
in the quietude,
in the battling,
on my knees in brown gravel
to better see this spray of fur
and how the frost
glows like white stars.

I sit on a stone in the pines and let the winds come, sweeping my hair back and lifting my lamentations from my forehead, where they have settled like a black cloud.

I let the air soften my shoulders and my sorrows, sunshine bright on thick brown pine needles, slickly strewn across the steep hill.

I descend down into a quiet underworld of this sharp gully, strewn with ancient boulders, white sycamore trees, and black-edged chert. Here there are globules of iron ore, slow dripping water, brilliant moss, and slabs of stone pocked with holes that look like a giant has walked here and left boot prints made of stone.

I sit in silence on a slab of back stone pitted with holes where we discover a warren of miniature chambers and caverns. It looks like a fortress or monolith, a series of squatting shapes, or Easter Island heads. But, piles of droppings within one bridge of stone reveal it is more likely the rats of Nimh who in here dwell. A thin and well-traveled trail leads across pine needles down the hill and to the puddled stones. Perhaps, we think, it is really gnomes who live here and the chamber is where they stable their noble, rodent steeds.

We skitter down the slope as well, nearly horizontal on our descent to keep our footing and as we emerge over root and stone, we find the complete skeleton of a mid-sized animal arrayed across the rocks; white skull, rib cage, and spine, ankles turned back with feet draped flat against the rock. We examine it solemnly, reminding one another that we’ve always said we must be careful walking here, we could break something with one wrong step.

We find a cracked snail shell tucked into a hole in another stone, next to the dried and desiccated remnants of last year’s columbine. We find a bleached white turtle shell, a few flakes of brown and black keratin scales still delicately patterned with geometric precision, which flake off in tidy rectangles into our hands.

We find a dead tree knobbed into a spire like a castle tower. And, when we’ve reached the deepest, most silent portion of the valley and stand on uncountable stones, we suddenly hear footsteps moving through the leaves above our heads.

We stand silent, motionless, barely breathing, our ears pricked and alert as if some part of us remembers an ancient time, when our senses were sharp for survival, instead of softened and dull and weak and human, accustomed to beds and blankets and plenty of food. The steps move closer, louder, closer, back and forth just beyond our vision in the trees. We wait, wondering, but we never see whose heavy steps part the leaves and silence our voices.

At home, I prepare for an interview. The topic is beauty and priestessing. I pull faces at my husband, laughing and scowling—“I am the Priestess of Beauty!” I exclaim as I bug my eyes and evaluate my face in the mirror. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t style my hair, I am not fashion conscious. Perhaps they have chosen the wrong person to speak of beauty.

Then, I remember the white skeleton in the leaves, the way the last icicles of winter hung from the wet stones, chilled and dripping though the temperature today reached sixty degrees. I remember the sound of spring peepers rising full-throated into the air around me and the red-shouldered hawks turning in broad circles across the sky, screeching. I remember how my five year old son, frustrated about something recently said: life is never amazing and I told him, honey, if there is one thing I will stand up for until the end of time, it is that life is almost always amazing.

This is a particular and
sometimes peculiar gift,
this persistent insistence
on seeing beauty in all things.

Molly Remer, MSW, D.Min, is a priestess facilitating women’s circles, seasonal rituals, and family ceremonies in central Missouri. Molly and her husband Mark co-create Story Goddesses at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of nine books, including Walking with Persephone, Whole and HolyWomanrunes, and the Goddess Devotional. She is the creator of the devotional experience #30DaysofGoddess and she loves savoring small magic and everyday enchantment.

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