FAERIE LIGHTS IN THE FOREST - How I Spent My Midwinter RebirthDay
It might not happen this year. The big PTSD anniversary reaction when somebody hacks me off by getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel, thus blasting open the dam for the next bloggy deluge. Then again, the season isn’t done so it could still be out there, lurking on the horizon, waiting for me to put my guard down.
*Jaws theme music*
Meh. My guard is down. If it hits, it hits. Some years it doesn't. If it does later in the season and I’m inspired enough by the impact then I’ll write about it.
I mean, I will eventually no matter what. After scouring my journals for the timeline, I have the first nine months compiled. I did that last year between Christmas and New Year’s. The first nine months was enough. I had to put it away. One of these days, I’ll be in the right headspace to tell you about what happened after the Holiday Hell passed and life Out There resumed, allowing me to understand just how bad the situation was.
But tonight is not that night.
Tonight is for telling you about the ways I celebrate my post-Dain Bramage RebirthDay, and the ways I stave off unexpected triggering. Knowing that anniversary season is nigh, I meet it head-on. I throw the door open wide and invite it to sit down with me at my table so I can serve it tea. Sometimes it serves me. Other times we trek out together in adventures of meaningful intention.
This year my PTSD brain, my old-life-mourning, and I went for a walk amidst one of the most glorious sights I have ever seen in my life.
I'm sure I've told you about Crystal Bridges (6), our local museum and forest trail extravaganza themed around American art and nature. For the past three winters, they’ve brought in an exhibit from Moment Factory, a Canadian multimedia company. (1) It's called North Forest Lights. Out there in the woods above the museum buildings and waterways, they've erected a spectacle of lights dancing to music.
When my mom and I went to the grand opening, this soundtrack entranced me from the first moment, and all I wanted to do was dance to it myself.
It begins with the long walk from the entrance to the first installation. Here and there, shifting colored lights dot the nightime, transforming select trees into enchanted specters. Mist wafts through rocky features, hinting that you’ve wandered into the borderlands of an otherworldly realm.
This is not your usual Ozarks.
I admit, the first time we went I started out kinda bummed. We kept walking and walking, treated to solitary random lights, but nothing that could explain the price tag of our admission. As members, we’re spoiled. We get into most temporary exhibits for free, with exception of a few major ones like this. The creators of Crystal Bridges--this museum is a Walmart baby--have generously granted everyone free admission to the permanent collections and whatever art has migrated to places along the trails. But this show had a significant entry fee attached to it, compared to any others we’ve paid for.
Although I’m a sucker for any pretty lights, and the music made me skip and twirl beneath the stars, I was a bit let down. The longer the walk grew, the more I raised an eyebrow, wondering if we’d been swindled by some sort of Black Friday hype. ’Twas the Season, after all...
We had no clue.
Last week when my parents took me again for my birthday, my dad had the same reaction. Although mom and I have gone multiple times, and I’ve also gone with friends, he had never come with us. When we got back to their house afterwards, he ‘fessed up that he’d been wondering if she and I were off our rockers, spending that much money to return that many times for…
What? A couple light bulbs at the base of a few trees?
😈 No no no no no. 😈
Even Tempest is not the glorious light circus mom and I wait for all summer and fall.
This LED-lit labyrinth is one of the permanent installations that pockmark the North Forest Trail. It always reminds me of ice caves or crashing ocean waves in the Arctic. It makes me think of Lindsey Stirling’s Crystallize.
But it is not North Forest Lights.
There are five installations in Moment Factory's luminary vision.
If you know me well, you know how significant that number is.
Each piece calls me to dance in its own unique way, because they each so flawlessly evoke one of the five Elements in my dance system:
Air - Crystal Grove
Metal - Forest Frequencies
Earth - Whispering Tree
Fire - The Hearth
Water - Memory of Water
Combined with the Buckyball—another permanent installation—we’ve got the purrrrfect setup for my Dance of Elemental Alchemy. This hexagonal globe of glow, forever shifting in rainbow hues, dominates the gateway to the North Forest Lights. It’s the first illuminated artwork you see when you arrive and it’s the last one to bid you farewell in the parking lot. (5) Fitting for Alchemy, I thought.
This summer, I spent some awesome evenings with JAjax basking underneath the 'Ball on the curvaceous wooden loungers that surround it, geeking into the night and watching the colors play. Sometimes they’re spastic and flashy; sometimes they zoom; other times they lull and glide. You never know which face you’re going to meet.
Although the Buckyball will remain, alas, this is the last time they’re bringing in North Forest Lights (run! go now! it closes January 2), so the fact that I had both my parents there on the full moon near my birthday was magical for me. And yes, dad was converted into a believer once we finally got to the first installation. We all had a good laugh over that, since mom and I had been wondering the same thing before the show enlightened us.
Gwa-har. Toldja. I can’t help myself. (You can smack me later.)
It was only 36 degrees out the night we went, so I was especially grateful for my long snow leopard coat--giftie from my mommy the year I taught in Chicago in the winter. We also wore our long johns, woobies, and winter-wear, something we haven't done together in about thirty-five years, back when we all lived in Minnesota.
Having both my parents there and hearing my dad talk about art along with my mom and me…that was a precious gift. I figured that he wouldn’t be terribly hip to the flashing and whirling or the pounding soundtrack of Metal and Fire, and that neither of my parents would want to stand in line to sing with the tree at Earth. Heck, I didn’t want to stand in that line either. Not that night. But Dad especially loved Water, which closed the evening on a high note. (Mom and I loves them alllll...)
I did, however, want to sing with the tree one last time before they close the exhibit forever, so for my RebirthDay I took myself back alone.
There were a few moments on the road driving where the headlights in my rear-view mirror were too reminiscent of the ones that rammed me. Sometimes the emptiness of a dark road is even worse. It’s like the spooky music in a horror movie that creeps in as the clueless kids traipse through the forest, laughing and gallivanting, having no clue that a chainsaw is about to roar up from the abandoned barn. Every time this happens, I have to pet my animal-self and remind it how brave it is for venturing out in spite of the fact that it hates when I make it operate a motor vehicle around the Winter Solstice, especially at nighttime. Especially when I’m alone.
But I needed to be alone that night.
I had always intended to go to North Forest Lights by myself, because my hyper-fixating, goggle-eyed color-devourer and music-gobbler craves many more iterations of each piece than anyone I’ve ever gone with. Honestly, I could stay out there dancing or at least vibing with that show from dusk until sunrise, and probably come home on fire. (Only to face-plant and drool for the next day-and-a-half, but it would be worth it.)
I had really wanted to do my solo trip on Solstice, the actual anniversary date of my car wreck--and because it’s Solstice, duh. But I couldn’t do that like we did last year, because the museum is closed on Tuesdays.
So I went on the 22nd instead. I figured there would be enough magic on a date like 12/22/21 to satisfy my numerology and astrology cravings. And ohhhhh, there was.
The first time I meandered through the forest of faerie lights scattered across the ground like luminescent marbles on anemone stalks, all I could think was, “I have wandered into Felurian’s shaeded grove.” If you don’t know this most beautiful and insatiable of the Fae—she with the irresistible voice and the butterfly eyelids—the best I can do is introduce her to you with a quote from the first book in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller series:
“I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day… I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life.” ~Kvothe, The Name of the Wind (2)
All those images painted across my own butterfly eyelids when I first read about this creature and her magical land--I had found it! Standing in the middle of what I had always envisioned, it rendered me all eyes and very little breath.
My first steps into the grove are always slow. For a time I merely marvel, absorbing the cascade of lights. Blues and frost, purples and pinks and deepest rose. They chase each other like a frolic of faeries through the undergrowth. I want to chase them, too. They are the forest come to life. They are its soul and ichor made sight. The music is its voice.
In time with the chime tones of a crystalline harp, random lights or small clusters pulse and fade. A will-o-wisp calls me to come play. A trio or sextet says hello and then goodbye, only to pop up on the other side of the path. A whole flock of blue sweeps across the dell like a miniature Wild Hunt on electric wings. (3) They giggle and chuckle. They sing and hum, luring me in deeper. As I wander the grove, they’re everywhere. Teasing here, beckoning there, playing hide-and-seek or rushing up in a flurry to require my appropriate mortal awe before slipping back into shadow. They whisper to me that I am one of them, and I believe.
Sometimes I sit on a bench at the fringes and watch the whole dance of harmonies and counterpoints. From there, I can also see the full scope of their night-riding frolic.
Mostly I prefer to be right there in the thick of them.
While exploring the far edge of the Crystal Grove, you can make out vertical stabs of light flickering and zipping yonder through the trees. Whenever Felurian’s bell tones exhale and pause, the echoes of driving, bass-heavy music pound upon the breeze. It’s a brief walk through darkness to get there, with a completely different sort of siren call as the sound grows louder. This music is deeper. Weightier. Brighter. Sharper.
As I stand in the open space amidst a treetop galleria, it’s a psychedelic eye-feast set to a trance-dancer’s dream. In contrast to the grove’s Airy-Faerie prancing and its mystery-enshrouded suspension of time, the Frequencies are all Metal: stark and upright with a bold soundtrack, underlaid by its Earth foundations.
The music goes through five distinct movements, each one a flavor of its own. As we arrive, the orchestra is warming up. The cello hums, the woodblock pings, the thunder rolls, and the gui-tar sings. At last, when they feel that we’re ready to handle what they’re prepared to deliver, the woodblocks plink us into the earthy beat. It is a rhythm I have danced to innumerable times, out there in the woods with the stars and moon overhead as the firelight shoots sparks into the night.
This beat is both modern and ancient. So are the instruments, and they demand that my feet drum the earth the way they were born to, all the way back to when somebody brilliant first strung a skin over a hollowed-out piece of wood and struck it. My feet must stomp. My hips must rock. My spine must sway in this ageless ritual call.
The audience is thick here tonight, and I haven’t put on my Freak Face, so this all takes place subtly beneath my coat. (Riotously inside my bones.) I haven’t come here to steal thunder from these artistic lightning bolts jammed into the earth, or to even weave a quintet made from my body and their jiving foursome—the music, the light, the forest, the night. I could. I ache to. But this crowd is not right and this moment is for them—for all who have come here to watch this show, and for Them, the ones who present it for the final time. It’s made to transform Me into We, so I let it.
Alas, We are not dancers.
We are viewers. We are listeners, so I tune in and delight in spite of my wistful longings to let it literally move me the way it moves my heart and mind.
Those flirty strings sing out over the hip-luring drops of the percussion. They paint images upon my imagination: I lean back and draw infinities with my hair, with my nose upon the sky, with my shoulders and my heart and my outstretched hands. I know what I’ll be doing when I take this music home with me. To my dismay, I have not yet discovered any options to buy the soundtrack. I've been hoping we'll be able to once the exhibit closes.
So for now I slink over to the far side where the fewest light bars ripple. A speaker booms there, tacked onto a tree over my head. I let the sounds hammer down upon me and my camera, gleefully anticipating the ecstatic homage to Dionysos I will be enacting in the privacy of my home with my own faerie lights around me. In spite of the siren call to dance NOW, the mere imagining is enough.
It's actually more than enough, especially when a trio of teenage girls start subtly grooving together. They break out into dismissive laughter and overblown antics to release the tension of what they instinctually know—that we all could be dancing together in this open space. It’s what this kind of music was built for. It’s what the instruments of our bodies were built for, and I’m thrilled to see these beautiful young girls offer that lesson to us all.
After they skip out the exit, a toddling boy whipping a glow-stick to the beat takes over as our instructor. Everyone smiles. We laugh. His mother pulls him back from getting too close to the nearest light bar, but she doesn’t halt his genius. I sigh, enraptured by the hints of human community. The village in action. We’re all so scattered. More so, now with this pandemic, but it’s still there in our marrow and our blood.
It makes me ache for an age when there would be no fear, no self-conscious uncertainty, no eye-rolls or nose-wrinkled looks at those who move to the music. Or the awkward head-shaking that professes, "Oh, no. I could never do that. I'll leave this performance to you," while a heart secretly aches to join in and transform it from performance into connection. But there was that mean so-and-so who laughed when we were seven and that is potent and so—
So I dream of the transformation of my culture—that we would think it more odd to not be letting the music move us. To not smile around that circle, creating spontaneous conversations with each other and with everything surrounding us, permeating us. This music is like the Force. It would bind us, as harmoniously as the trees are interconnected with one another and their environment, if we would let it.
For now, smiles passed between strangers remain fleeting. The shared excitement and wonder keeps hold of that thread—the lie that assures us we are separate, especially if we don't know each other's names. The crowd watches the show as though it is something outside of themelves. Something to admire and perhaps applaud and then move on, but I think more of them truly do Know, deep in there like I Know. Like the girls and the little boy Know.
We all Know.
Why don’t we Dance together anymore?
“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: "When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?” ~ Gabrielle Roth
The Frequencies' bows upon strings wind us down, scraping zhukka-zhukka-zhukka-zhukka-zhukka-zhukka into the final fade of this opening movement. People start to shift in preparation of an exit, but the Forest Frequencies aren’t remotely done with us. That was just the warmup.
The low electric guitar introduces itself. Shades of frontman metal zing out over our heads. A new beat demands even heavier feet on the pavement. It is driving and fierce—the rhythm I heard on the air from the grove. The strings keep it plumped while the guitar sails on. The drumsticks crack out the command: “Listen up! Here it comes...” A flurry of tinkling metallic percussion and strings of liquid silver slide us back into the thumping bass beat.
At last, whirring helicopter blades slow and slow...and…slow…us…...down into the pinging and ponging and binging and bonging pony-hop. Over this, a chest-rumbling, belly-deep melody grinds out from Vulcan’s bow on fat, heavy strings. A banjo tosses in its two-cents worth. The percussion thumps and kicks out in a good ole “Badum…chick! Boom-boom…chick!” I sooooo yearn to fling and land, letting it puppet me like only ingenious maestros can. “Da-dummida-dum!” they thunder, and how can it not mold every heartbeat into its time signature?
We slow once more into a plodding seesaw that reminds me of a drunken ship rocking happily on the sea beneath a starlit sky until we finally come to rest.
The clearing goes dark.
Bodies begin to move on and conversations swell back up. I don’t move a muscle. I just stand there, drinking it all in until the orchestra warms up for the next show. I experience it from the other side. And from the middle. And in front of the primary forest face where the majority of light bars dance.
Sometimes I like to stand in the center of it all and take a slow spin, watching the ripples and flurries pulse up the columns or swoop through the forest. I love to gaze up into the treetops overhead and watch the softer glow and the shadows play among the branches. Other times, I like to stand at the edge and focus on each distinctive light bar dancing in time with certain parts of the music.
Of all of them, Forest Frequencies truly dances. Every one of the installations does, but this one allows us to see clearly the wonder of individual lights dancing solo amidst an extravagant, intricate group choreography.
A point of fascination: Although I snapped photos of the artistic descriptions for each piece the first night I went, I did not truly read them because I wanted to experience each installation without any external influence. I’ve actually never read them until adding in the photos to this post. It blows me away how deeply and clearly the creators were able to imprint their intentions.
A second curiosity: How is it that these lights have never trigger a seizure in me? NEVER. The first couple times I came, I had anticipated that they would give me trouble, but they've never even come close, in spite of all the strobing, flashing, and whirling. In fact, I can come to this exhibit a bit brain-tired. I leave neurologically invigorated. It incites my Spockly eyebrow...
Until my solo adventure into the North Forest, I had only sung once with this majestic being of branch, tower, light, and root. Ornamented in globes that glow like a myriad moons, She stands on high before a microphone, where we worshipping mortals and entranced tree-friends can pay homage and commune. For one minute, you can sing or speak or whisper to Her—with Her. She is one high-tech Mama with an ancient undercarriage, and She can analyze the qualities in your voice, or the collaboration of the voices in your group, then transform them into movement and light.
The first time my mom and I went, we waited in line for this opportunity, but every time since I’ve only ever stood in the food court or sat by the fire to marvel at the colors and patterns created by others. Each color represents a different quality, and I wish I knew what they all were. The turquoise represent Energy; indigo is for Peace; gold is Strength. Beyond that, I only know what my hue means, because I’ve gotten the same response both times I’ve sung with Her.
As I await my turn, I stand along the sidelines, drinking in the variegated dances of light woven by those who sing before me. There’s a lot of gold-white-yellow, and a lot of blues-and-greens. The bigger groups inspire glorious cascades of rainbow patterns, shifting and brightening depending on who is singing.
Awaiting my turn:
Finally, it’s my turn. The host explains the process while I’m on deck, then ushers me out to stand before Her. I gaze for a moment. She is decked in the blueish-white moons that mark the interim silences. “Wel-come…” She says, two parts iRobot, three parts Gaia. “Your voice…has…color. Want…to see? Sing…to me…”
Heart pounding steadily, eyes huge and full of Her, I offer up my voice. Anyone who knows me well should be acquainted with the rocky relationship I have with my voice. The first time I sang with Her, I was nervous. Self-conscious. It took me a bit to get up the nerve to truly introduce myself.
Not this night. I came there alone on this date for this singular experience more than any other reason, so the sound flows from me like hot water spilling over sturdy falls. “Hello, beautiful,” I say, bubbling with laughter, and then we fall into it.
The cosmic tones and glistening harps overlap with my voice and Hers. Being soaked in so much sensory information makes my head spin. I speak and sing in a tumble and I know not what I say except a murmured cascade of, “Thankyouthankyouthankyou..." No matter what I sing, it's all, "Thank you," and I’m not only speaking to Her but to everyone we’re connected with. To this whole forest and the stars overhead and the other singers and the artists and their benefactors and the architects and landscapers and the compressed ball of earth that keeps my feet planted on the planet and the moon gazing down upon me with a face like the globes on the ground.
A burst of twinkle-lights zings up the front of Her. The globes in the branches begin responding to me. My voice rises like a nightingale in the wood; She answers by streaming rainbows at my feet. She tosses more rainbows into Her boughs like fireworks, and then the globes settle into warm, blushing tones.
Dusty rose. Dots of fuchsia and heartbeat red. Swathes of purplish-pink.
“You are…Magenta…” She tells me. "And...Sunrise. Harmony. We can sing Harmony…into…the world.”
I laugh, delighted and honored at being Seen in this light by such an ancient and ultramodern being. The globes pulse. My laughter makes a fountain of gold. More rainbows spout up and out, up and out! They cascade down into crystal-shard fireflies dancing along Her skirt to settle between us once more. With a final explosion of sound, my hue coalescences.
She invites me one last time. "Sing...with me..."
My whispered endearments hum out my love. "Always...always...always."
“Thank…you…” She hums again. Her voice skips in playful tune as Her final words weave through the glissandos of the harp. “Until next time…”
Her farewell hangs upon the branches for a moment longer. Then She and the night both sigh. The globes wink out, shifting back into soft blue-tinged moons of themselves. Mist teases about Her greatest forks, whispering of Lothlorien and what it would be like to be up there, cradled in Her arms, murmuring back and forth and raising our voices together about all the questions burning in my heart.
She asks me questions, too, and I only have a few answers for Her, which pleases Her more than if I’d popped off about everything I think I know. She leaves me much to contemplate. She gives me much to take home and ponder.
I’m pondering it all still, but those were Her questions and my curiosities. It was our intimate moment, and so I shall let it linger all night on the air with the mist, only to burn off with the sunrise, allowing you to muse and surmise as you will. If you know me, you’ll probably guess some of those questions correctly. A few of them I guarantee you won’t. If you don’t know me, you can imagine what you like, and I will smile back like the Cheshire Cat who ate the canary.
As I head toward the exit past our host, she suddenly cuts off her explanation to the next group. “Thank you,” she calls over her shoulder, her expression warm and delighted, “for bringing Harmony into the world.”
I bow my own thanks, smile, continue on. I’m still more than a little high from that one intense minute. It takes me a bit to come down, so I snag a spot on one of the loungers in front of Her Majesty to watch more people’s colors dance.
The magenta, I note, is most often present in the groups except for one other lone woman in a red wool coat. As she exits, I see that she’s only a little older than I am. She, too, wears a fuzzy hood. She, too, hides a fluttering bird behind her closed catly lips, and her eyes are full of night-blooming field flowers at midnight.
My time with Her Majesty:
SNOW GLOBAL VILLAGE & CHIHULY
On the second year they brought back the North Forest Lights, a little village of colored domes popped up across from the Whispering Tree. One can dine in the Snow Globe Experience for a hefty penny. (1)
Nearby, a path curves toward another piece of the permanent collection, one of the Chihuly blown glass marvels that the museum bought a few years back. (4) We members voted for our favorites and we got three, as well as the turquoise forest reeds and the floating balls. During the full Chihuly exhibit, more of these reed clumps painted groovy glass groves in red and purple, here and there throughout the trails. We got to keep the twin Azure Icicle Chandeliers that hang inside the Modern gallery, the cornucopia Fiori Boat that bids you farewell as you leave the North Forest Lights, and Sole d’Oro - the Golden Sun.
Being the mythology nerd smartass that I am, I can’t help but see Medusa in that sculpture. Ahem. You really can’t take me anywhere.
The Hearth begins in near darkness with only a heartbeat. I always hear it as my mother’s heartbeat. A hint of that familiar mist plays about the top of the wicker-like cage as a blue light pulses in time with the heartbeat. The moon beams down upon the whole affair tonight, calling to mind the bit of lunacy that always strikes the women in my family when Selene shines Her full face upon us. Solstices and equinoxes do similar things to us. I think Felurian's Fae might have been right about me...
When the Hearth ignites, all I can see is Her heart. All I can hear is Her song. My mother’s. My own. My grandmother’s and her great-great-grandmother’s and my aunt's sister's grandmother-in-law and that lady over there who looks nothing like me and that little girl on the other side who does. The innumerable fibers of He intertwine these threads as intimately as what's woven around the heart-basket until there is no He and there is no She.
In the end, there is only We.
Now it is our heart, our song, woven generation after generation into a harvest-gathering voice of the one Who dominates this blacktop altar amidst another clearing in the trees. But instead of the flickering Fae lights or the chase of laser bars among the skeletal winter boughs, a quartet of white spotlights pierces the apex of space carved out between the treetops. A gospel choir calls down from on high like pagan strains of Hallelujah and Om with Glory Be and Yes woven from branch to root.
As the pitch of the chorus descends, so do the beams. They cross and shoot out into the stars. They plummet slowly, kissing the trunks of the trees on their way down. They sweep across the ground and go still.
Darkness, but for the pulsating red heart.
And then one white beam shines straight at me.
Another blinding white beam.
The spotlights alternate to the double-down dance of musical surges. They shine and shift as though mirroring the four chambers of that heart in the woven basket. Then they soar up in arcs from the ground to the heavens and back. They make brilliant ballyhoo in the night, over and yonder and around and again, singing praises to the darkness and to the fierce, ruddy light that refuses to be put out by the blanket of shadow. All the while, the steaming hearth smolders and sparks, pulses and breathes until the whoosh of sound and the lights shoot off into the cosmos.
Only the ever-burning embers reignite within the tapestry of wicker. The fire is orange now, tinged with violet. Spent and satisfied, eyes close and even the embers vanish, leaving only faint moonlight shining against the tops of the trees. In the darkness and silence, the even darker silhouettes move on.
I don’t. I stay until the mist creeps up and the hearth-light beats blue once more. Across the way, so does another couple, and one little family to my left.
Unfortunately, my phone’s battery flashes at me in warning. It has just gone onto power-saving mode. Curses! Knowing that this exhibit is never to return, I had ached for a good recording of this soul-healing music without crowds of people blabbing and laughing and snarking over the top of it. Sometimes I’m all about the blabbing, laughing and snarking.
Not this night. I have my own heart to heal and I have some embers to tend. I'm not up for poking them into conflagration in that group party atmosphere, so I frequently pause to let blabbers pass by me, glance, enjoy, and move on.
I need deep immersion with every one of these pieces, so I've stayed with them for multiple rounds, only moving on after bidding a reluctant farewell, alight with my gratitude.
I promise the Hearth that I'll be back to commune without a focus on recording the sounds or snapping photos—to just BE like I'd been with the others. Then I dart off as quickly as I can to the final installation so I can capture the audio I want before my phone dies. That will leave me the rest of the time to spend with the last two elements.
Which is exactly what I do.
MEMORY OF WATER
The final installation takes place upon a bridge. There is no water under this bridge. Instead, it crosses a rocky ravine at the bottom of a wooded valley. The path leading down to it winds through the dark. As you approach, tiny dots of blue light cover the tree trunks like glow worms.
Often, it’s necessary to wait for the crowd to disperse at the end of each show before you can make your way onto the bridge. There is a longer time between iterations because of it, with a lovely intro of guitar music. Except for the bridge lighting, only a few faint, blue bulbs glow here and there around the fringes, reminiscent of those first lonely lights that lit up random trees on the long walk in.
As you wait on the bridge, you can hear it when it comes. The music suddenly builds and then—
All the Blue Faeries have gallivanted across the park from their home in the Grove to play with us one last time. They sweep down the hillside where they explode into a gazillion stars. On both sides of the bridge, bursts of sapphire shine up from the ravine, tracing geometrical shapes in the air that you can reach out and touch—or are they touching you? If you position yourself just so, the lasers shine fireworks into your eyes, and it suddenly becomes clear what was making all those glow worms on the trees—the farthest pinpoints of the starsbursts.
From every direction you hear it: ethereal droplets trickle into some unseen pool. Then, with one musical "tah-dah," a virtuoso beam from upstream shines down the ravine and cuts under the bridge. The light flattens, rolls like waves, and ripples outward toward the hillsides. On the back side beyond the bridge, the edges of the light draw literal wave patterns. On the front, it is an undulating blue river, a holographic sheet being slowly wafted side-to-side or in-and-out by delighted, languid art-gods.
For a moment, burnished sunset strikes the water. Clouds roll across the surface to cool it, while down on the rocky bed, fire crackles and burns through paper. The Blue Faeries pop to their feet, lighting up the hillside in applause.
I understand their reaction. I could stand on that bridge and stare into this river of light for hours. Alas, I don’t have hours left, as the close of the exhibit is drawing near, but I stand there through multiple passes, letting it all wash over me. Such wondrous sights and sounds sweep away any tension that could have remained within me after three-and-a-half hours of Elements & Art Therapy.
First, I view it from the far end of the bridge next to the speaker where I had captured the audio without the murmur of voices. People are pretty silent during this spectacle in general. It tends to leave us awestruck and reverent. From such a stark side angle, the wave pattern is less obvious. Instead, I’m treated to the piercing way that the beams slice through the night and dives under the bridge. I also get a perfect view of the Wild Blue Faery Hunt sweeping down the hill.
Next, I watch from the back side, fascinated most of all by the starbursts. Over here, they don’t get outdone by the river. Then I watch from the front-center of the bridge, and then once more. Only five of us are left. One of the girls has glow-finger gloves and she adds her finger dance to the starbursts. An older couple cuddles on the back side of the bridge. We smile and leave them to it, although we are all here together.
We are a few more lights in the North Forest, each of us a beam, a luminescent bauble, a glow worm, or a zooming light bar. Each of us dancing solo while dancing in tandem, often unable to fully comprehend our place inside the greater choreography.
Pumpkin hour approaches too quickly. I don’t want to say farewell. My hands grip the railing of the bridge for one last moment. I let the nearest starburst shoot me in the eye and sigh in rapture. Again, I am astounded that, for all the whirling, pulsing, chasing, swirling patterns of these lights, I have never once come close to experiencing that itch at the back of my skull, warning that if I don’t stop what I’m doing I will risk a seizure.
That has remained inexplicable to me from the first time I visited to this last trip.
Although I had that miraculous healing from photosensitivity after the 2019 retreat in Spain, brain issues have slowly crept back in. This year I’m having trouble with leaves flickering through the foliage again. Strobe effects onscreen or around me are starting to be uncomfortable again, too. But this light show isn’t a strobe extravaganza. Rather than producing harmful brain stress, I can feel it every time I’m there.
One of my friends had a car wreck a few years back. Apparently there are all sorts of new therapies and techniques that car insurances automatically send people to when they have brain trauma now. Some of these involve light.
I’m always envious of everybody having their brain injuries now, rather than back when I had mine. I suppose people who had theirs in the 80s and earlier are envious of the minuscule treatment I received, and especially the knowledge that I was given about why I felt like I was going crazy, much less having a clue what to do about it. Such is the nature of progress. I am thrilled for everybody receiving way better care than I did, but I admit it. I’m jealous, too.
Who would I be if I’d gotten to have these cutting edge therapies back in 2001?
Tell ya what. I probably wouldn’t be standing on a bridge in Arkansas--Arkansas?! Yes. Beautiful Arkansas...getting shot in the eyeball by a glorious blue starburst with glow worms and faeries all around me so…
So I let the waves of the light-water wash away the last iotas of my stress. Tonight, the memories of my car wreck's anniversary do not haunt me. They exist. They’re all back there in the dusty file folders of my mind. They always will be. But they don’t distress me right now.
Alas, it’s time to head home.
When I returned to the Water from The Hearth the second time, the Crystal Grove had gone silent and dark on the other side of the forest. Now the Frequencies no longer zip and boom through the trees, so I release my hold on the bridge railing, give it one farewell caress, and start off toward the exit.
The adieu sign asks me which one was my favorite installation and all I can do is laugh. The Sagittarius can't pick just one. My favorite is whichever one I'm enjoying at the moment. Or else it's YesToAll.
I barely pass anyone on the way out, and there is no exit music tonight. No lone lightbulbs showcasing a tree. I have officially closed the joint down, which was my intention. I didn’t have to look at the clock to know. The Forest told me the hour. By the time I reach the parking lot, there isn’t even anyone at the gate to bid me goodbye. Only three other vehicles besides mine dapple the hazy parking lot. The streetlights seem harsh and garish now, but at least the Buckyball bids me a farewell in greens, golds and pinks.
The Buckster sporting some Alchemy: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Metal.
Once bundled into my car, I plug in my dead phone and head home through the Christmas lit neighborhoods in silence. Yet the silence is full of cello chords and tinkling percussion, chimes and harps and drums. Those tunes stay with me for the rest of the night, through my dreams, into the morning. They are destined to linger all week.
On the highway, headlights flash into my rear-view mirror and my heart races for a second, so I pet down my internal warning hackles that remind me how close to December 21 it still is--“And you know what happens on December 21 when you drive at night.”
Yes. I know.
This night? Nothing but bliss.
Moment Factory's North Forest Lights at Crystal Bridges:
’Tis the Season
THE VIDEOS I MADE OF EACH INSTALLATION ARE DONE!
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: ME & THE TREE - Old, Broken, Beautiful Creatures
--OR: I took another photo shoot a couple weeks later of all the amazing tech behind the North Forest Lights! NERD ALERT: FAERIE LIGHT TECH
--OR: Do you not know about why Winter Solstice is my RebirthDay? I've written a bunch about my tangle with a drunk driver, my 21 years living with Traumatic Brain Injury, and my injury recovery. You can find all that here:
--THE NAVIGATION TABLE OF CONTENTS
CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF THIS SHOW? (Me neither.)
1) North Forest Lights by Moment Factory
--Crystal Bridges, N. Forest Lights and that fabulous Crystal Exhibit
--Moment Factory's inspiration
--Dine in the Snow Globe Experience
2) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
4) Glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly at Crystal Bridges
6) What is Crystal Bridges? My home away from home.
--Crystal Bridges & Momentary 2020 - embracing change. Pandemics, social eruptions, contemporary thought, contemporary art with ancient traditions. And of course, ageless nature.
--Outdoors in the winter - art & nature
--3:33 Minutes of Bliss at one of the water nooks