A Moment on the Edge of Fey

To Find Magic in Paper and Place

In the times before Covid-19 📖 I traveled several times a year for work; often four to six trips. In each place, often a college-ish town, I’d seek out a bookstore or game store; to find yet another portable magic spell. “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” — Stephen King 📖

Each time I returned from travels my bookshelves would gain an inch or two. Those measured pages, like a Sisyphean boulder, held potential energy.

Someday, in a future not marred by consumptive habits such as doom scrolling or yak shaving, I would draw one forth. And glean what I could.

On one trip to La Jolla in , as though anticipating the dearth of future travels, I returned with a burgeoning carry-on laden with books purchased from Warwick and D. G. Wills; Perhaps ten books, now resting amongst other books both read and unread. You see, no one checks the weight of your carry-on.

When I go to a book store, I check four sections: poetry, essays, classics, and travel. In that order.

The poetry section is my canary. I’m looking to see how this store curate’s its collection. Poetry, likely not the store’s money maker, instead speaks to the curatorial voice of the book shop. How it dreams and sees its place in the world.

The essays are a “plain form” statement of what’s important: Morrison, Lorde, Hutchinson, Le Guin, Bloom, Solnit, Oliver, Sedaris, and others.

The “classics” section is an interesting visit. What does this place consider timeless? What, in my life time has moved from fiction into these venerable venerated section? I find no answers in this section, merely shelved opinions.

And in the travel section, I’m not looking for city or country guides, but instead the travel essays or histories. What does this book shop have to say about moving through this world?

I give high marks to those who carry Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking 📖, a fascinating read that helped me remember the vitality of putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ll also venture into the science fiction and fantasy section, as those remain the roots of my love of reading. Glorious is the moment when I find Michael Moorcock 📖 or Fritz Leiber 📖.

As the calendar , I found myself again in Johnson Vermont at Ebenezer Books; a personal favorite boasting an abundant poetry and essay section and a well curated classics end-cap. Ebenezer’s is the cozy book store every town deserves.

While in Vermont, I also went to Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont. I found Wanderlust, and saw a shelf-talker tag. Good, I thought, this is a place with similar tastes. Here I found Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain 📖.

I had been questing for this book and given my wintry sojourn to the Green Mountains I found it fitting that they had a copy. This copy had an introduction by Robert Macfarlane 📖; an author whom a former coworker and now friend recommended I read.

But that is not the tail to tell. Instead, I want to write of a road side shrine. Not the portable magic like a book, but a sacred pathway in which I almost expected to find a lamp post lost amongst the snow. An elemental magic of time and place.

On the dawnward-side of a mountain too far from my present abode, yet near where I consider home, there is a small graveled lot. Here one can park your car or bike and then cross a wooden footbridge that spans a shallow stream some six strides wide.

Crossing this footbridge, your immediate choices are privy, path, or shore. On this January day, we chose the path which wend alongside the creek.

In this stream-etched vale we walked along a snow packed trail; a frigid rill babbling as our ninth circle’s companion. Here ice clung in biting defiance to the unseasonable, yet likely normal for the upcoming decade, January temperatures

Would we find Charon waiting? What price might we pay to kiss the frigid water’s edge?

Along the trail, wispy pale green lichen effused from dormant trees. A pioneer species, as I learned that day; they don’t rely on drawing nitrogen from soil, but could instead pull from the very air I breathed. I wasn’t using it, I didn’t mind.

For five minutes, a prime moment, I heard no other sounds of human toil. Instead I heard the flow of water and a burst of piping calls from a red-headed pileated woodpecker. Five minutes of nature unadorned by the noises of it’s most disruptive inhabitants. Five minutes, longer than most every song we now play or hear.

How could this place, far colder than it’s entrance, be so removed from a life of meetings and project trackers? This was sacred ground. In those five minutes removed from the noise of colonial empire I felt and knew the cold of winter’s past. Of evergreen needles and frost’s bite.

I wanted to curl into a verglas chrysalis and remain witness and ally to an age which we hasten to eradicate. Here was not a portable kind of magic, but instead an enchanted valley that, as clear as to me as the water flowing, nourished the incantations found in the bound pages of some of the books I hold dear.

I learned that day, not of necessity, but through curiosity, that one can burn paper birches even when they are water logged. Wood, water, and fire; three of five.

Minutes passed. Water flowed through the burn. Yet it felt eternal. As though I could bookmark this moment, close and return at the vernal equinox to again be part of this elemental and enchanted land.

I had inverted my travels. Instead of finding a book to remind me of the place I visited, I had found a place that reminded me of the books I visited.