The mystical light of foxfire hides in the mist.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 13

Only the morning was alive.

The dawn boiled up in a swirl of light without sun or source, a turbulent alchemy of cool stream swallowing rocks and trees and earth as if King Arthur’s mad Merlin himself had uttered a cloaking spell over the land

I walk along the Ozarks road next to the wounded woods.

The first snows of this winter have fallen, the previous day, cloaked the earth with a majestic ermine dust, thick as heapings of refined sugar. During the night, a faint thaw breathed away some of the snow, warmed rocks and tree trunks so that patches of bare earth blotch the albino landscape.

The temperature quivers below freezing, still, but it is oddly warm, as if that hot thaw southern breath is still puffing out of a gulf furnace, razing the crystalline banks of snows with invisible currents that knife the vagrant chill which prowls the winter morning.

The mist enfolds like a warming cloak and the brave cedars have deadened the wind with their evergreen gloves. The deer tracks have left wide circles in the snow, muddy clefts that are frozen into cuneiform tablets a man might read and understand.

It is quiet and the earth itself seems empty at this vacuous hour. My heartbeat thrums as loud as fear itself. There is no one here. I am alone and the mist is suffocating.

The fine quality of the morning out here is its vacancy, its utter indifference. It does not matter if I am here or not. The trees don’t care; the earth is like a mighty Sphinx underfoot, sleeping for eternities regardless of intrusions.

The light, though, begins to take a shape of its own. It assumes the motion of arabesquing mists, assimilates the forms of these earth clouds that smother the land with a kind of primordial reminder of the legendary Void.

The light—it takes my breath away, gives it back. Foxfire, they call it. A mystical radiance that slinks out of the lowlands and sniffs under bridges, hugs the mossy feet of trees and searches through empty fields at dusk and early of a morning. A fairy light spoken of in whispers by old-timers who recall the bogs and moors or the old country and see the mirrored reflections of those ancient Anglican nations in these Ozark hills.

When I think about these things and realize that the earth, this mist, doesn’t care, isn’t malevolent or dangerous, I am no longer afraid. Rather, I feel as if I were back in San Francisco, under a streetlamp bathed in brume. It’s like being up on Russian Hill or down along the Embarcadero, near the mindless sea, the Jack London-haunted bay.

This mist seems to come from such a sea. The comforting, ever-changing, restless sea. The time beach where we floated to shore so long ago when we could not see land or tree or rock. It’s as if the good Gulf air had come to the Ozarks for a brief visit, bringing us a reminder of eternity and infinity, of the Void that once was.

When I was a small boy, I used to think of that void, that awesome nothingness. I must have heard of it in Sunday school class or read about it in a book. Or dreamed it. I pictured it in my mind. The universe was an egg and the egg was empty. It was a very frightening image. It is frightening now, in a cosmic sense. To think of a place, a whole vast place, that was absolutely nothing at all, that was, according to Genesis, “without form, and void; the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

I was awed then and I am still awed when I think about total nothingness, a noneness that is almost incomprehensible.

The mist hangs here, strays, lingers, hovers, drifts, for a long time. The light, the Foxfire light, builds, explodes, permeates, invades the delicate shadow-swirl of these steam clouds. It is like being alive at the dawn of creation. It is like being present during the time of the inexpressible Void and seeing nothings take shape. First, perhaps, a fine mist, and then a mass, pulsing with heat, with energy. Or maybe only a thick soup, sometime after the beginning of things, flooding through nothingness and breaking up into fiery chunks that gradually cooled as that mysterious force, gravity, held the newly created solids in perfect check and balance.

I know that none of this was simple. Yet, we have a clue or two to guide us in our search for how matter was created, is created. Not specifically, as the King James translation of the Bible says, from the Word, but from the thought. The big thought. The beginning of everything is thought. A mind conceiving something from nothing. That is simple enough, but not accurate enough. The thought must have energy. That energy is belief. To believe a thing will occur, will be created, and to believe that such a thing is already created, is the secret to all creation. These stray thoughts of mine, as I stroll through a small world of mist and cloud, bring these points home to me.

Yet, complex as my world is, as simple as it appears, I realize that its existence is beyond my comprehension. But it was within someone’s comprehension. Francis Crick, the Nobel Prize winner who wrote Life Itself, Its Origin and Nature, in trying to explain the barely fathomable world of DNA and RNA, wrote this: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”

What is life and why is life? These are questions that echo in my mind as I walk through the creation of morning. And I do not take this morning for granted. I am present at its creation after all, and there must be something to learn here. Yet, it is probably arrogant of me to assume so much from such scanty evidence as clouds, mist and a strange, seldom seen light.

I do not want to make too much out of these small moments. They are normal, I suppose, for this time of year and for this place. But, somewhere inside me is a child who remembers his first primitive thoughts, his first fears, his first inklings that once there was nothing and now there is everything. Will someone come along and take it all away? That was the childhood fear. If there was nothing once, there could be nothing again.

Someone has described me as an immigrant to the Ozarks. I suppose that is technically so. Yet I have never felt like an immigrant. Not that there is any adverse connotation to the term. It is true that I was not born to these parts and I am a relative stranger. But, when I came here, I did not feel that I was an intruder nor an outlander. Rather, I felt that I was coming back home.

This is a complex feeling, but I guess I mean that this was the place I had always wanted to be, without actually knowing where it was. I knew that such a place must exist, but I had never been there.

I am here now. I no longer feel like an outsider. Nor an immigrant. Yet, this morning, in Foxfire mist, with the light swirling through gauze clouds of an uncertain origin, I realize that I am still coming into the Ozarks, into this good earth, to find something that I dreamed of as a child. A place where I could see creation happen; where I could search through what memory I was given to look for my beginnings. To look for a Father. A Great Spirit.

There will be light today and the mists will drift away. At the end of the road, I turn back toward home. Certain trees I had not seen earlier will be visible now. Some will be gaunt and leafless. The cedars will give off their musty scents, their eerie green-black glow. I will look again at the wedges of deer tracks and remember a clay tablet in a museum that had an important message left behind for us to decipher.

As the mist rises, I will wonder where it is going, why it was here. And I will guess at where it came from. Don’t talk to me about convection and air currents. Tell me about faeries and gossamer-winged creatures that seek out the eerie lights that surge through these hills on magical mornings and lurk in the shadows on certain dusks when the moon is hidden behind dark clouds and the woods turn invisible, as if swallowing the earth, as if returning it to the void from whence it came.

Talk to me about things that make sense for a romantic who immigrated to these Ozark hills to find the answers to all those boyhood questions that seemed to have no earthly source.

Tell me what you see in these mists, if you dare, and tell me the true meaning of  creation and the peculiar light that natives call “foxfire.”

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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