The Kingfisher came to me on a dark, dark night. I was feeling glum about not being out there on the road with Neil - you know how I miss him when he is out on the road doing his other job, Blog - and had just turned off my brain for the night and gone to sleep. But my sleep, it was deep. As the night wore on I fell deeper and deeper into a sleep I did not recognize. It was a frightening, dreamless sleep. There were echos of darkness all around me, nothing more. I seemed to pick up speed on my descent into the darkness, and no matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find the road under my tires. Acceleration without direction, without friction, without road, is a reckless and dangerous feeling for a car. I kept looking for Neil to appear behind the wheel, but I couldn’t find him! No one was at the wheel, not even me. But I didn’t know how to stop my descent, and the more I tried, the more speed I gathered. Down, down, down I fell, faster, faster, faster. “When I was faster I was always behind” and other words words words flitted across my mind like subtitles in a foreign film; I heard the whir of the projector, then nothing. The darkness grew more black. The stillness was unbearable. The pain greater than any fire.
I’m not sure how long I was there, in that quagmire of absolute, unbearable stillness, but then, out of the blue and into my black came a distant sound. It was only the very transparent sound of stillness, of silence, at first, but even that was welcome. It drew nearer, somehow. I began to pray fervently, with all my chrome heart, that it was my old friends, The Lady of the White Buffalo, and Chief John Lame Deer, the Hitchhiker!, come to show me the way out of this dark place. But it was not. It was the tiniest of birds, it was The Kingfisher, and he flew right in my window. He was singing his Kingfisher song - it sounded more like a person who really knew how to whistle than a bird - as he flew in my window and perched on my steering wheel. I stared at him for a while and then wondered aloud if I was in a dream. I knew I was, because of course I was whole again. I had a steering wheel! I was not just bare.
“No, you are not in a dream, LV,” the Kingfisher said, using my nickname. ”This is all too real.” His speaking voice was ominous, a deep and powerful voice for such a tiny bird. I was a little scared. I thought about running, I mean, there were my wheels again!, but … It was real? It was real. How can you run when you know, I thought. My need to stay was greater than my need to go. I stayed.
“Yes, this is real, LV. You are here, in The Darkness. The Stillness.” He paused, and seemed to peer closely at me. ”It frightens you,” he said, more gently.
“Yes,” I said, softly, not sure how else to proceed. But suddenly I knew this bird. I liked having him perched there on my steering wheel, talking to me. I didn’t want him to fly away without me. As if he read my mind, he raised himself up, and began to flap his wings, hovering. There was a mighty sound, like thunder, the likes of which you would not think could come from one single bird out there on his own. Then he settled right back down on my steering wheel. Though some might have taken it as a warning, I did not. I knew this bird, this Kingfisher. I took it as a promise. The most sacred promise. My heart opened like a flower.
“We have much to discuss, LV,” the Kingfisher said, even more softly now, “You are big but you are small. You do not see it all.” He flapped his wings a couple of times and then went on. “There is still much to learn,” he said, this time so softly it was like his voice itself was one of his soft, blue feathers, landing on my front seat.
“Yes, I know,” I said, only slightly more certain of my role this time than with some of my friends in my previous adventures. He smiled.
And the Kingfisher, when he smiled at me, something happened. He disappeared. Instantly I felt cold. I watched as a dense wall of gray fog built itself all around me, snaking its way under my body, inside my doors, through my windows, all over my floor. I couldn’t see my own dashboard. My wheels began to turn. I mean, literally. I was going somewhere, but I didn’t know where. All I felt was relief, though, because the terrible stillness, it was gone.
When the fog cleared, it parted right down the center, like two grey doors opening in absolute silence. I felt a rush of heat, and then panic: I was drifting on an ice float, in the middle of the ocean. This can’t be good, I thought. Shit! What the? I looked around. There, walking toward me, walking right across the water, was a man of great presence. A king! I think. He had the most startling coat, it reached all the way to the ground, and it was made of the finest of feathers, of every color in the rainbow, but when you looked at it at first it looked pure white. He carried a scepter made entirely of colored light, it was as if you could just peel it like an orange, around and around and around, and you’d hold color, actual color, not paint, not marker, not crayon, but actual color, right there in your hand. The colors from his coat of feathers and his scepter of light trailed behind him, mighty echoes of his majesty.
He approached me, and laid his hands on my hood. For a long, long time, he left his hands there, not moving. They felt warm, and soft. I felt something reaching deep inside me. And then something happened that has never happened to me before, in any of my adventures, ever. There was a sound. A very distinct sound. It was as if I were a traveler, who, leaning my cheek against the window of a train, had fallen into a deep sleep. And then another train passed at such a speed and so close to my face - whooosh - I jerked my head up, the sound came with a rush of feeling. Do you know that sound? It stays with you forever if you’ve ever experienced it. Anyway. It was that sound and WHOOSH - all of a sudden, I realized that I had become … Well, I had become a real live person. A woman! It felt natural, I was surprised how natural it felt to be human. I looked at my reflection in the water, as the King looked on, amused.
My skin shimmered and shone in the light, I marveled at my face, my hands! My hair - The exact color of my convertible top! I ran my hands through it, and then looked down at my feet. They seemed incredibly small, and woefully inadequate - only two? I took a few steps. So slow! I twirled around and began to dance, my long, long hair and my long, translucent white gown that shimmered and shone with the light of a thousand tiny hand-embroidered moonstones wrapping itself all around me as I spun. The tiny moonstones made a sweet tinkling sound as they bumped into each other, like rain. Ah! Now the feet seemed lovely. I was light as a feather! And dancing! Really dancing. I laughed out loud, and then stopped short. A voice. It startled me. It was my own. I looked behind me for the King. He was watching me, his eyes dancing.
“What has just happened?” I said, in my new female voice. It sounded lovely to me, but so very slow, getting from here to there. I could already feel the inadequacies of my human brain. The King laughed.
“I think you know what’s happened, LV,” he said. It was the voice of the Kingfisher! This was the Kingfisher! I knew this bird. Uh. Man. King. I laughed again.
“It’s you!” I said, my relief audible.
“Yes,” he laughed. ”It’s me. I’m right here, with you, LV.”
“But … What … .” I began. But then I stopped. I have been on enough of these adventures to know better than to ask too many questions. And I could tell by the Kingfisher’s face that it was time to listen, and not ask.
We began to walk. We walked and walked and walked. Walked and walked and walked. At some point, the King took my hand. It made me feel warm, and safe. It felt like having someone you trust behind the wheel. I was human, but I still thought like a car.
We walked from ice float to ice float, for miles and miles. Along the way, things happened. Strange things. Worlds collided and time collapsed, we covered distances that we couldn’t have even if we had been the fastest car on Earth! Or, rather, had been in the fastest car on Earth. After a while, we arrived in a place that looked like an actual town, and stopped to rest. Very soon I could tell that this was the King’s road, he seemed very familiar with everyone and everything here. Everyone was so happy to see him, even perfect strangers greeting him as they would an old friend. He was gracious to everyone, I marveled at his grace.
We entered a building, an ancient and beautiful building, that seemed to have a life of its own. (Don’t even get me started on inanimate objects having lives of their own, I heard all kinds of things walking down the street - Buildings, signs, cars, all talking to each other! You’re not alone out there, people.) It was a library. So many books! So many stories. I was dying to get my hands on them, but it seemed like the King was on a mission, so I followed his lead. I hung back. He went to a very high shelf, and his hand went right to one certain, old, leather bound book. Its cover was falling off, it was held together with some ancient looking tape that had begun to yellow. He sat down on an overstuffed threadbare love seat covered with a fading rose pattern and patted the seat beside him. Dust everywhere. I sneezed. Whoa. That’s a weird feeling, I said, and laughed. The King just shook his head at me. Was he bemused? Disgusted? Exasperated? I couldn’t tell, but we had been walking together a long time so it might have been exasperated. I can really try your patience with all my talk talk talk. I closed my mouth (but this talking thing was so fun!) and sat down next to him on the old love seat.
Silently, the King opened the book, and as he did so, he laid his hand very gently on the right page. Then, he took my hand, and laid it on the left page. I was curious. What the … He started saying some words in another language, whispering them. I leaned closer to him to listen and there was that sound again, that stop-your-heart, train passing you in the night with your face pressed against the window sound, whoosh, and that was the moment we were sucked right into the book. Suddenly, we were in the story, living the words on the page, walking among the other characters.
We were walking on words. Every step we took, every word we stepped on, created a new picture. Scenes built up around us instantly. Trees sprung up, birds began to fly! I stepped on the words “you are like a doe” and just like that, deer peeked their heads out at us and seemed to smile. At first we were enchanted, completely enchanted by this enchantment. We ran around stepping on words as if we were Tom Hanks jumping on that piano in the movie “Big.” We laughed and laughed. But we were in a dark forest, and I began to recognize it. Suddenly I knew what book we were walking through, and now I knew what lay ahead. I was terrified.
We had entered the book in what I knew was Dante’s Forest of Error, in his Divine Comedy. Which meant we were only at the beginning of this book. I knew what was to come. I knew the words that lay ahead, just waiting for us to step on them and bring them to life. I shivered, and drew closer to the King. He squeezed my hand as if he knew too. We were going to have to walk through fire, and worse, if we were going to get where we were going. I took one step forward, and an entire sentence jumped at us like a gang of wild dogs, baring its teeth:
The path to paradise begins in hell.
“Don’t worry,” I said to the King, trying to reassure us both, “I know this book. I know it well! I can get us through this.” I looked around frantically for words I knew were in this part of the book. Ah! There they were, I ran over and picked them up with my small, bare hands:
Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.
I held the words out to the King like an offering. The King didn’t say anything. He looked at me like he had faith in me though, which I appreciated. I dropped the words in his pocket, just in case.
Of course I knew, too, in the back of my mind, that if we could just get through this, that the book does have a happy ending. Dante’s Divine Comedy was originally titled just “La Commedia” by Dante, which literally meant, at that time, “story with a happy ending.” The word “comedy” did not mean “funny” as it does today. But I also knew that La Commedia, later re-name The Divine Comedy, was divided into three parts, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Shuddering, I looked around for Virgil, for I knew he would be the one to lead us through the Inferno and Purgatorio. But I only saw a small girl. A small, beautiful child, in a beautiful blue dress with a blue satin ribbon in her curly blonde hair. She was laughing to herself, it was the sound of my heart singing!, and she was skipping around in a field of dandelions. Instinctively, I walked toward her. The King held tight to my hand. I looked back at him for a moment, questioning, for it felt like now it was I who led him. No matter. I led on.
“I am Beatrice,” she said, when we got within earshot. That was all. She skipped ahead. We followed.
Now I could go on and on and on and tell you all about every single page of this book that we walked through. But some of it was too horrific to repeat, and anyway, it would take too long. Besides, we didn’t walk through the entire book. We were skipping around. So I’ll just cut to the chase. Here’s what happened.
When we were in the Inferno chapters, the words were big, and slippery. Tricks were everywhere. We saw words that we thought meant one thing, but it meant the other. We fell into terrible holes by stepping on words we thought were safe but were not. It took us so long to climb out of some of those holes. Words slipped through our hands and broke, so we couldn’t read the whole sentence and figure out where we were. And some of the words we were walking on were terrible. We didn’t want to step on them but we had nowhere else to go – We stepped on words that conjured up terrible, horrible things! The Earth, destroyed by human hands. By words like ignorance, avarice and apathy. By blind eyes. Deaf ears. As we walked on these words the Earth cried out with a terrible sound, cries of pain. Of fear. I closed my own eyes, put my hands over my own ears her cries were so horrific, realizing as I did so that I was now doing exactly what had gotten the world into this mess in the first place.
But the most terrible thing we saw was this tiny little girl, this beautiful child, disappearing before our very eyes. As we walked deeper and deeper into this fresh hell, trying hard to follow her, desperate not to lose her for we were sure she would lead us out of there, she became not invisible, exactly, but more transparent. Translucent. The more terrible things we saw, or experienced, the more pain we felt, the more transparent she became. I strained to see her, frantically trying to turn on my headlights but of course all I had were eyes. Stupid girl eyes - they couldn’t see far at all, and they couldn’t see in the dark! Merely human, no longer the smart car I once was, I hung my head. I had never felt so inadequate. Finally, falling to my knees at last, I cried out in anguish, in despair “Beatrice! Don’t leave us here!,” shouting at the top of my new-to-me lungs to drown out the wild dogs of hell barking at our heels and their horrible hell sounds. I stayed there on my knees for a long time, hanging my head. I vomited. That’s a human feeling I could do with out, ugh. I raised an oily dirty hand to my face, something was rolling down my cheek. A real tear! I felt broken, unable to start my engine. But this being broken was different somehow. This human sadness - it was different than when I was a car. It seemed … harder to fix, somehow. When will I learn how to heal? I wondered, to myself.
Abruptly the King pulled me up from my knees and forced me to walk again, taking me by the hand and pulling me with him into the strong headwinds and the howling. He dropped some words into my pocket now. I pulled them out and read them with my free hand even as we bowed our heads to the wind and pushed on:
O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?
The going was rough. The things we saw! People all around us threw their trash into the street and it hit the ground and multiplied, instantly, a thousandfold. We were up to our necks in it by the end, but still moving forward, somehow. When the wind grew especially terrible, we were having a hard time standing up, and were at risk of just getting buried by all the crap around us. Drowning in the waste. Such waste! The King tried to pull his hand away but I held tight. He pulled hard and we broke apart. Suddenly the wind stopped and everything grew silent, and still. The trash heaps receded, clearing our path. Beatrice grew perfectly transparent. I was more frightened than I have ever been in my life. I grew brave because of it. I reached into all the stores of courage I could find and looked up. I saw two gates ahead. Beatrice and The King stood perfectly still, watching me. Waiting for me. I stepped forward and opened first one, and then the other. They were clearly marked. “Hope.” “Faith.” We stepped through them. I knew we were in the Purgatorio chapters now. We trudged on, in absolute silence.
In Purgatorio, we were stepping on words like “some day” and “tomorrow” and “maybe” - words of uncertainty, inaction, indecision. Words of fear, procrastination, frustration. Words of confusion, misunderstanding. It was almost impossible to make these words come out, and show us the way. We had to stomp on them as hard as we could to make them even legible. We were jumping up and down on them, but still - It was so silent, so still. The air was so still it was hard to breathe. All you heard was the tap tap tapping of our feet on the words underfoot, sounding like the knock knock knocking on a door, far away. But I knew this book. I knew the way out of here. I began to run. When I started running, these words flew up behind me:
Thus you may understand that love alone is the true seed of every merit in you.
The King followed, but he didn’t run. I could tell he was frustrated with my inability to have gotten us out of these horrible places before now. I had told him I knew this book. Now I think he wasn’t so sure I could even read.
There were two more gates here, more hidden than the last. I began to pull at the tall grass and the weeds in my way with my bare hands, knowing that action was the only way out of here. Words flew up around me.
As the geometer intently seeks to square the circle, but he cannot reach, through thought on thought, the principle he needs, so I searched that strange sight …
My arms and hands were bleeding when I was done. I noticed that the King was helping me. So was Beatrice. But they seemed to be hanging back, waiting for me. I kept moving forward, until I reached the gates. I opened them, they were rusty and creaking and I had to use the weight of my entire body to get them open enough for us to squeeze through, pushing hard again and again with my shoulder, but I did it. These gates were interlocking gates, and they were marked in a familiar hand. “Imagination.” “Reason.”
We stepped through them and the world under our feet became something else entirely. The words here were a kind of poem, no matter which way we walked. The best possible words in the best possible order, in every direction. Action words! Words of love and courage and care. Words of involvement and effort and thought. Words of creativity and intelligence and innovation. We came to two more gates. “Love.” “Passion.” I looked at the King, and he looked at me. We both looked at Beatrice. She didn’t even touch them, she just blew on them, and they swung wide open. We glided through. We weren’t stepping on words anymore, but on the brown earth. The green grass of the prairie, the hot sand of the shore. The flat rock of a glacier lake. We walked and walked, not able to get enough. We were living, it felt like, in a paradise. This was Dante’s Paradiso! It is hard to even describe, which is why I guess the words fell away when we passed through those gates. This was the world the way it used to be, the way it could be again! This was the Earth I am trying to save, that Neil is trying to save, I thought. This is Mother Earth, in all her glory. A piece of heaven. I marveled at these new feelings under my new, bare feet.
I smiled at the King, and he smiled back. We looked down at Beatrice, for she was walking between us now, holding both our hands. Beatrice began to run, pulling us behind her. She was running toward a clear lake. We caught up with her, breathless and laughing, and stopped at the edge. We looked in together at our reflections. But then – The strangest thing. Beatrice reached right into the water, and switched our reflections. Suddenly I was looking into the water and I saw not my own face but the King’s! And I could tell by his face that he saw mine. Beatrice laughed and skipped around us, switching our reflections back and forth a hundred times or more. We never tired of this game, somehow. It was fascinating, to us both.
Finally Beatrice skipped off and laid down under a tree and fell asleep. We followed her, afraid we might lose her again. We laid down our heads, too, underneath the same giant, ancient weeping cherry tree, next to that deep lake. We stayed there for a long long time, pink blossoms falling all around us, just resting and holding hands. After a while, the King fell asleep, his head resting on my stomach. He looked peaceful. Happy. But his head was heavy with thought, I could feel the weight of all that he held inside. We formed an L there on the ground, my legs stretching out beyond it. I wiggled my feet back and forth, still marveling at how something so small could carry someone so far. Or at all. A breeze blew in my face, and pink flowers rained all over me, some of them sticking to my hair. Some landed on the King’s face, I leaned over and gently blew them from his sleeping eyes. Suddenly I blinked, and sat up. All at once I knew more fully than ever before why Neil cares so much about our planet, and saving it from destruction. I knew now the simple joy of what it is to be human. The feeling overwhelmed me. I jumped up and was instantly sick with dizziness, as if I had been driving around and around in a dusty parking garage for a long long time. Barely able to breathe, and now feeling as wobbly as a newborn foal on those new two feet of mine, I sat back down again. I picked up the King’s head and put it into my lap. I looked into his face for a long time. Finally I sank back against the ancient tree and turned off my headlights – uh, closed my eyes. Right before I lost consciousness, a bunch of words fell right out of the tree and landed on my head. I knew what they were going to be before I even picked them up in my two hands.
All’alta fantasia qui mancò possa — Paradiso, XXXIII, 142. At this high moment, ability failed my capacity to describe.
It is the moment Dante looks into the face of God.
When I opened my eyes again, she was there. The Lady of the White Buffalo. As beautiful as ever, sitting right next to me. I started to speak but she put her finger to my lips, pointing to the sleeping King. Very quietly she stood up and walked over to him, carefully moving his head, gently separating us so that I could stand up. She helped me to my feet and we walked together. She talked, I listened. We walked and walked.
“LV, your guide, the girl, do you know her?” she said, motioning to Beatrice, still asleep on the other side of the tree.
“It felt like I did,” I answered. The Lady of the White Buffalo was silent for a moment, and then went on.
“Beatrice – she grew clearer and clearer, as you struggled, did she not?”
“You mean she was disappearing? Yes! She was dis …”
“She grew clearer and clearer,” The Lady repeated, annunciating every syllable as if I were a child.
I thought. Well, yes, I guess you could put it that way. I nodded, confused.
“LV, there is a love, unutterable and perfect, that flows into a pure soul the way that light rushes into a transparent object. The more love that it finds, the more it gives itself.”
I was beginning to understand.
“Beatrice grew more transparent when you needed to rely on her the most. Beatrice was . . “
“Love,” I said.
“Yes,” the Lady of the White Buffalo said. Without love, nothing can be accomplished in this world. If you are to be The White Buffalo, if you are to be our Hope, LV, you must accept and become this love, unutterable and perfect. It is already there, inside of you. You must embrace it.”
“I know,” I said. “I mean, I understand.”
“It is your most important lesson,” she said.
“This Kingfisher … “ I said, wondering about him.
The Lady of the White Buffalo laughed.
“Ah. The Kingfisher. You are not familiar with the legend?” I wasn’t.
“The Kingfisher is the bearer of halcyon days. The legend is that the kingfisher has the power to calm any storm, to calm the seven seas – to bring halcyon days - in order for his mate to nest upon the water.” I waited for her to continue without saying anything. I felt heavy as we walked. I wondered if I was already turning back into a car.
“LV. These are your halcyon days. You are waiting to be born, are you not? To be born again. But …“ she hesitated. “The world, too, is waiting to be born again. The kingfisher did not come to you to remind you that you are in your halcyon days. The kingfisher came to tell you that the world is in its halcyon days. The world is waiting for … something to be born.”
At that very moment, we came to a lake. I looked at my reflection, knowing what I would see. I was pregnant.
“LV, you carry hope for the world. You carry hope and faith and imagination and reason and love and passion. It’s all inside of you. The Kingfisher came to tell you that he is protecting you. The world is waiting not just for you to be born, but for what you carry inside of you. What you represent. The people worked together, and they lifted many stones.”
I felt dizzy. I wondered if it was morning sickness. This being human thing was complicated. I kind of wished I was a car again.
I noticed that my friend held something in her hand, something she kept wrapping around and running back and forth between her fingers. It looked an awful lot like the little girl’s blue satin ribbon. I reached out to touch it and with that heart stopping sound of a passing train I was back home in the garage, just my bare body once again. I took a deep breath and looked around. It was late. I wasn’t at Brizio’s, somehow, I was back at the ranch, and it was the middle of the night. I looked toward the garage doors, hoping to see Neil walking down the hill. Of course, he was.
“Neil!” I shouted before he was even within earshot. If ever I wanted to see him, it was now.
Neil walked in and put his hand on my driver’s side door, the way he does, and popped his head inside, looking around. He was carrying something close to him in his other hand. He was whistling.
“Neil, I have so much to tell you!” I said, so happy to see him again.
”Kind of glowing there, LV,” he said, a mischievous look on his face.
Glowing? Did he know my story? How could he know?
He kept looking me all over, making sure everything was okay. I love it when he does that.
“I had the strangest adventure,” I started to say, and then I went on and on and on. Neil listened and listened. He is so good to me that way. Finally, I paused. I waited for Neil to say something. Anything.
“We have to work together, LV,” he finally said, quietly. “You have to help me.”
“I know, Neil,” I said. “I will. I am.” We stayed together in silence until the sun began to come up. He patted my door a couple of times, and started out the door.
I sat there, wondering about it all. I looked outside. I saw Neil walking up the hill again. He stopped at the pond and stood there for a while, peering into it. Suddenly he turned back to look at me. He stood there looking at me for a long, long time. Before he turned and continued up the hill, I’m pretty sure he winked. I couldn’t see his face exactly but I could tell by his walk that he was smiling to himself, I have known him for a long time. He looked as if he were flying on his feet. I didn’t wonder what he saw in the pond. I knew. For there, open on my floor, was what Neil had been holding in his hand when he came into the garage. It was the ancient book, “La Commedia.” Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was open to this passage, and marked in pen.
The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
flows into a pure soul the way that light
rushes into a transparent object.
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
the more complete the joy of heaven is.
And the more souls who resonate together,
the greater the intensity of their love,
and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.
A single pink flower marked the page.