Traveling with the Fairies
Updated: Jul 19, 2023
By Molly Murfee
Everything has changed. For as I go for my morning saunter, I see them. The first green shoots of grass. It is misty and mysterious out, a storm has just rolled through, and the new plants bejeweled with rain-snow make me think of the old, wise woman Bean Feasa, traveling alone over the green hills of Ireland, always on the fringes of dawn and dusk, gathering herbs to accompany her healing. For the best strength she seeks solstices and equinoxes, mornings when dew hangs heavy on the plants, the brightest day near a full moon, or the resting place of souls on the darkest night. She plucks stems of Yarrow, yes, but also St. John’s Wort to lift the spirits, Vervain for exhaustion, Eyebright for greater vision. It is her communications with the Otherwordly spirit at her elbow, however, chattering away to her companion on one arm, basket on the other, that wields her the greatest power.
In more vernacular terms, she “travels with the fairies.”
Folklorist Gearóid Ó Crualaoich of the University College Cork in Ireland sees the powerful, autonomous Bean Feasa as the embodiment of the Sovereignty Goddess of pre-Christian times, guardian of her territory, a kind of oracle who discerned the upset equilibrium between a land and her people, and set about restoring cosmic, social and psychic harmony.
Some say the Bean Feasa still walks the land.
I see Trudy Yaklich. She is hunting pussy willows, one of the first blooms of spring, that her father Fritz brought to her mother for the table about this time in May. Her hair is twirled on top of her head in a bun. Her willowy frame is clad in brown leopard print. Trudy is the descendent of one of the oldest and longest lineages in Crested Butte—the Kochevars. Immigrating from Slovenia, her great grandfather Jacob Kochevar, arrived in Crested Butte on a horse from Salida in 1878. His wife, Marija, was a mid-wife, herbalist and town saint, who Trudy’ll tell you “delivered 350 babies and lost only one.” As Trudy says, the ice water of Coal Creek runs in her veins.
She hasn’t seen any pussy willows, she reports, asking “Have you?” I make a promise to let her know when they start emerging so she can put some on her father’s grave. Memorial Day’s coming up after all. We exchange Pasque Flower notes – are they blooming yet? I tell her I’ve seen bluebirds, she responds with tales of red-wing blackbirds in her tree.
Trudy then launches into tale after tale of the animals in her midst where she lives on the banks of the Gunnison River. How she notices the one deer is wasting away, but how the ducks feed politely, waiting their turn in a line, when she puts out some snacks for them. She laughs at the silliness of the juvenile mountain lion pressing its nose to her window, relays conversations she has with the geese and ravens. I remember the last middle-of-the-road chat I had with Trudy, when she thanked the raven for joining us.
“You have to stop, be still,” she admonishes, shaking her head at the seeming stupidity of others, “it has to do with silence.”
We are stopped at the Wastelands. I look out past the piles of waste rock onto the island in the navel of the lake, and the Axis Mundi Tree growing from its Center. A Great Blue Heron flies in an arcing sunwise circle just 30 feet over our heads. Entering our sphere from the east, she swings south, west and north. She is so close I can see the rust and black on the underside of her wings normally invisible to the naked or even binoculared eye. This skittish and ancient bird, 54 million years our elder, older than even the Bear or the Wolf, settles just above us on the highest peak of black rock of the Wastelands, surveying Peanut Lake, undoubtably listening in. We are all just utterly silent, for a moment, together. Trudy, the Heron, and I.
When I speak again, it is almost a whisper. I tell Trudy about the geese keeping sentinel over the lake, honking furiously the moment anyone comes into the vicinity, even I, sneaking in on tiptoes like a crazy lady when no one is looking. Yes, she nods, “The ducks listen to the geese. If the geese sound the alarm, the ducks paddle away.” We talk about how the animals of this lake must know each other, generation after generation of interactions. I tell her I am adding her to my Council of Elders.
She nods again, of course, it makes sense, then asserts, “I’m 80 years old, I do have wisdom … but some people don’t!” She’s flabbergasted at this absence so natural to her, but acquiesces, her eyes brightening as she looks up through the lake, up through the forests of spruce, fir and pine, up to the pointed peaks of Paradise Divide.
“It’s because this land raised me. It taught me to see these things.”
I follow her gaze to the heron on the hill, then smile back at my friend. There are indeed goddesses among us.
Place-based author Molly Murfee is the 2023 Local Writer-in-Residence for the Mountain Words Literary Festival; a 2022 finalist of the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction; and a 2022 contributor to the Bread Loaf Environmental Writer’s Conference. Molly teaches nature writing, literature and ethics with the Clark Family School of Environment & Sustainability at Western Colorado University. She is hard at work on her creative nonfiction book, The Adventure of Home, re-membering our indigeneity to this Earth by unraveling the destructive foundations of colonialism, and reweaving mythologies of a sacred wild. Sign up for Molly’s Earth Muffin Memos Blog & Newsletter for more on her book and field-based writing and nature connection workshops at www.mollymurfee.com.