Magic is where you find it

I step out the front door, into the night. The wind slams down the street. If this were the big city, it would be howling against the sides of the buildings, using their resistance to strengthen its fury. Here it shakes the trees, their leaves rustling so loud and forcefully that it sounds like rain is pounding down. I step away from under the eaves, down the short cement path. The light beside the front door reaches its limit a few feet ahead, only just beyond where the path turns sharply to the right and toward the driveway. My shadow looms before me, huge and monstrous. The wind hits, rushing down the street, and the tree beside me roars out a battle cry. Its branches hang above me, arching over the path. The leaves look nearly black. Where the lantern shines on them they are rich, dark red.

I stop at the edge of the path, still in the tree’s shelter. The sky is vast, piercing blue. Midnight blue, navy blue, lapis lazuli – the color is endless as only the sky can be. Stars shine like holes in the endlessness, fierce white fire. The street is not dark, for all the lamplight cannot reach it. The stars are too bright for that.

The wind comes in waves, in rushes. The rain-thunder sound of thrashing trees comes from all around. I hesitate to go any further, to leave the protection of the branches above me. I almost don’t dare. Finally I take just two steps forward and look up, at the distantly familiar map of the stars. They shimmer brilliantly, and I smile at the sight of them. I don’t linger, staying only just long enough to fill my eyes with stars before I retreat once more to the safety of my tree. The wind slams me, and the night feels full of intent, the wind and the trees and the stars and the sky all echoing with the same wild force. I look out into the night and it thrums, reckless and alive.

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Crickets

I have a strange love affair with Orion the Hunter. Perhaps because his distinctive belt makes him the only constellation I can always pick out with certainty, seeing him in the sky always makes me smile. I feel safe. Protected. As if the vast sky is suddenly my friend.

I looked for him in the sky every time I stepped into the garden to watch the stars. I never found him. I’ve missed him. Missed his protection.

Eventually I stopped going out so often. It doesn’t help that the garden is lifeless and bare. The earth isn’t brown; it’s grey. The gardeners my mom hired to tend to things while we were away apparently thought everything in the back garden was a weed, and eradicated it all. They only left the trees that line the back fence. They may even have been right about the weeds, but it’s still weird to have a grey garden.

There is one patch of grass, right by the edge of the patio. It sort of swoops around to the side of the house. Crickets live in that grass; I hear them chirping sometimes when I go out. There used to be more of them, back when the weeds had not been BRUTALLY TORN from the WEEPING EARTH – I mean back when we still lived here. We would lie in bed, my sister and I, and fall asleep to the sound of crickets.

Windows in Denmark are thick, for insulation. Most of them have double panes of glass. Ours were so good you could barely hear a car if it zoomed past right outside. We slept in silence. For the first few nights we had trouble falling asleep at all. It happened in reverse when we returned: the crickets were so loud that they kept us up at first. Only our jet-lag saved us from sleeplessness.

There are so many animals here. I don’t remember noticing them back when I was growing up here. There are the crickets, of course, and there are ladybugs and daddy-long-legs and the occasional butterfly. There are ants. (I hate ants, and with good reason.) There are the crows that perch at the top of our fir trees, cawing and cackling and flapping about like black heralds of doom. There have been a few blue jays rooting through the barren earth under the trees, and a dove or two. None of this is new, not really; there’s just the novelty of long absence.

But then there’s the flock of wild turkeys on the hill at the end of the street, and the tiny lizards that flit out of my way when I walk home from school. The squirrel that dove into its burrow when I passed. The ducks in the creek a block away from my house. The furry brown creature that might have been a mouse that vanished into a bush almost before I’d caught sight of it. The birds I’m almost certain were quails that rustled in the shrubbery for a full minute as I walked down the path. The hawk perched on a telephone pole, so still I almost didn’t notice it.

I don’t remember seeing these things before. I don’t remember noticing that this city does its best not to be just an urban mess of streets, and that its best is pretty good. I was probably too busy with whatever book I’d been reading lately, and it makes sense that I’d pay more attention now that this place isn’t familiar anymore. But it’s still jarring to see all these animals I didn’t know we had.

What’s even odder is the smell of dust. My way home from school is lined with half-wild greenery (where I see most of the animals that are so strange to me), and I go past a golf course, a park, two scenic paths and a creek, all carefully maintained by the city (and the owners of the golf course, whoever they are); all filled with Californian flora and fauna (and neat lawns in the golf course). It’s beautiful and varied, and I love it; but California is (sort of) desert country. It’s dry. The earth here is so dry in the summer that it sifts into the air. This mingles with the smell of the dry, dry plants – particularly the resin-filled aroma from the fallen needles of the evergreens, for some reason – to make a peculiar flavor of air that cannot be escaped. Sometimes it’s even overwhelming. I still don’t know if I like it or not. It feels like it should be unpleasant, and it almost is, but it’s so familiar.

It reminds me of my childhood. Of… of small adventures. Going into the woods, even if it was just the wild jungle of my own backyard, was always the beginning of an adventure, and in the summer it always smelled like this. (The rest of the year wasn’t all that different – just wetter.)

Yesterday it rained. It was the first time in a long, long time – only the second time since I’ve been here. I haven’t missed the rain – the sky here is so big that somehow it doesn’t matter if we never get any rain – but it was still nice to see it again. It made the day special. Like fireworks at Disneyland: you know they’re nothing out of the ordinary, but they’re fireworks. It’s special.

The rain here feels like a guest. It’s not like Denmark, where it changes the entire tone of the world; here it just colors the air, leaving the buildings and the ground fundamentally unchanged. It lasted most of the afternoon, and yesterday night was one of the clearest nights I’ve seen. The moon was like a lantern. I could see stars so small they should have been invisible. I gaped up at the sky, a grin of wonder on my face, and breathed in the freshness of the world after rain, surrounded by the underlying dusty presence of summer.

And for the first time since I came here, I saw Orion shining brightly in the sky, just for me.

Clouds

I used to comment – brag, really – that the sky here would catch fire as the sun rose and set, and that skies in Denmark were decidedly tame in comparison. (Not that I didn’t like the Danish sky. It had its own subtle glory, and the light at certain times of day was golden and magical to the point of being utterly unreal.) When I came here, I was disappointed (and a bit embarrassed) to find no fantastically burning skies. The sky here was, in fact, at least as quiet as in Denmark, and without that otherworldly golden light.

But today, as the sun went down, I happened to go outside. I couldn’t see the sun itself, as it and the hills it was sinking behind were hidden by our house; but the sky was painted all the colors of gold and orange and pink. (The pink of sunsets is not the painfully over-used cutesy pink found elsewhere. The pink of sunsets is infused with molten passion!)

A platoon of alien ships rested on the eastern horizon, oval and smooth and large enough to support whole cities. They glowed with orange and pink, sleek and brave and new. A fluffy flotilla of much smaller fighters raced from the west to meet it, tinged with gold and white, anxious and determined.

I went inside to get my phone and write this down.

When I returned everything had changed. To the east were great deserts seen from below, orange and deep pink fading to purple. The brave new ships had fallen under the weight of many ages and become beautiful ruins, still smooth and sleek and oval. To the west, torn shreds of sun like tissue paper, falling upwards into a mass of wispy grayish clumps that clustered hungrily around the light that paints them with fire. A slowly graying purple trail curved southwest, ending in a distant point like an unfulfilled promise.

A few moments later, to the west again: Smoke figures plunging in joyous freefall toward an unseen pink light that will at once kill them and set them free.

I went inside. After barely three minutes, I looked outside and saw everything the same stony grey, the color of ash. All was so completely similar that it seemed carefully arranged, possibly by a malignant, vengeful force bent on speeding the fall of the once-great alien civilisations that inhabited these fading deserts. Their sleek and perfect secrets were now no more than sand; and to this was added the final insult, painting everything with monotonous ash, taking away every last vestige of their identity.

Clouds make me poetic. This is what I saw, and it was marvelous.

Stronger Than Fiction

According to my mom, I was a bit slow to start reading. My sister started when she was four, but I only learned after I’d left kindergarten. I caught on pretty fast, though – I started reading Harry Potter when I was six. Barely a year later, I read 172 pages in a single weekend. (I was very proud.) I devoured books like chocolate. I went on hundreds of quests with hundreds of adventurers. I learned important lessons about family, trust, loss, friendship, sorrow, love, betrayal, duty, and the importance of being true to yourself. I learned the value of magic and the strength of honor.

I learned to see the patterns. I saw the shape of magic and of stories, and the intricate workings of the fantasy worlds I traveled. I learned to understand the way enchantments were woven and curses were cast. I learned to recognize from a look when two characters would fall in love, and to grasp from one spell the rules of an entire system of magic.

In other words, I understood the world of fiction. I understood it as I had never understood my own world, because in fiction the author will explain things for you and the characters will follow the rules. And finally, after many, many years, I learned to understand the world I’m in. I saw the patterns in fiction, and once I knew them well enough I could see their reflections all around me.

Authors try to make their characters realistic; if they fail, the stories are no fun. So even though the people I read about were battling dragons and dealing with fairies, they were people. They reacted to the hardships and the joys they faced as real people would. I understood fictional people as well as I understood anything; and fictional people are modeled on real ones. It took a while, but I finally saw the shimmering patterns I knew so well echoed faintly in the people around me. Because I understand characters in books, I actually have a shot at understanding people in real life.

I know that authors exaggerate, and I know that going to school every day is not as conducive to dramatic emotions as discovering your sister killed your brother to get the throne. All things are relative, though. Friendship and love aren’t as dramatic as in the stories, but they’re not as clear-cut, either. Things are messy and confusing. Time passes in days, not in chapters. People don’t follow the rules.

So the echoes are faint. I can just barely detect the pattern. So what? The fact that I can see it at all – the fact that I actually understand people, even if just a bit – is more than enough for me. The fact that I am (very) slowly but surely getting better at this is just awesome.

I love that fantasy has taught me to understand reality. I love that flying to new worlds has taught me about the one I’m in. I love that I can still see the magic in the life I live and in the people I know well.