I have spent the better part of the day walking along the train tracks, through the dense green freshness of an evergreen forest. I'm not sure whether I'm in Washington or Oregon at the moment, nor do I have a clear idea of when I'll reach the next town. There are ways of finding out, of course -- ways of speeding my journey as well -- but I'm not eager to use them. The journey itself, and my ability to accomplish it without the knack, is of interest to me. Besides, the memory of my mother's voice comes unbidden to my mind: Outside of Corey, you should develop the habit of using magic only when you must.
Evening comes on slowly in the Pacific Northwest; the persistent cloud cover creates a day suffused with a soft, twilit haze, so that when the sun actually begins to fade away it's hard to tell the difference. I make the decision to stop for the night before it becomes difficult to make out individual tree branches. Stepping off the tracks, I head downhill into the woods.
Clearings are potentially dangerous, even in a place which seems so far away from human habitation. You never know when an intrepid back-country hiker or a bear or something even more dire will wander into your sleeping place. Trees are lovely and offer a great perch from which to survey the landscape, but they're not comfortable for sleeping. I prefer to sleep in a patch of ferns; they provide cover without the ouch factor of blackberry brambles, and they're beautiful besides. If I can find some moss to rest upon, so much the better.
It has begun to rain, and I pull my thinning fleece hood over my head. Having tromped several miles downhill, I eventually find a suitable place to hole up for the night. It may not be the Ritz, but it should be sufficiently comfortable to let me get some sleep. I settle down in the bracken, curling up like a cat, and simply wait. Slowly my eyes and ears acclimate to the sounds of the forest, and the animals begin to go about their business again. When I am sure I have no human eavesdroppers, I cup my two hands together, blow a warm breath into them and toss the charm into the air. Instantly the rain parts around me, the drops bending easily around the invisible hemisphere I've created to keep me dry. Granted, I may not need to use magic, but there are times when I want to -- and besides, since it would take even more effort to rid myself of a case of pneumonia, I consider this a needful ounce of prevention.
I turn over on my back, looking up through trees to the darkling sky. There isn't enough light to make out the raindrops coming down, but I can hear them all around me, touching the earth and the trees and the ferns. I cannot see the stars, either, but I know they're still there. I cannot see the full moon tonight -- only a watercolor splotch of pale grey beyond the clouds -- but it, too, continues to exist. And though no one knows of my existence, I am still here, still as vibrantly alive as the forest lives, as full of quickened light as the moon.
And Keefe is as far away as the invisible stars.
I don't know why I should think of Keefe, after all this time. I'm free in a way few people on earth have ever been. I've seen and done things I never dreamed were possible, even growing up in Corey. My life is filled with breathtaking beauty from day to day. Tonight my belly may be empty, but tomorrow or the next day I will find sufficient for my needs. It should be enough, and more than enough, to fill the Keefe-shaped hole in my spirit. That it does not always do so puzzles me -- but I cannot allow it to keep me awake all night. I curl up again, banishing thought from my mind, and the sound of the rain fills my head until it overflows into sleep.