“A ballet held us captive. And we could not get outside of it for it lay in our lives and our lives seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”
“But years of performances muddled the ballet. And we used that mix up to break clear of it and to look again after our own being.”
(Odette after Wittgenstein)
Warned by the horizon’s fiery bands that darkness neared, the swan dame led her flight to sanctuary. “We must return,” she thought. And, the swiftness of her flight’s decent stirred the twilit mists into unruly rings. Yet, so soft did they meet the still lake that it begot but faint ripple; and so near their sheltered shore that it allowed an untroubled change from paddling webbed into wading feet.
As the human Odette stepped on to the shore she regarded her charmed sharers. All twenty-five were present and after many summers youthful yet by virtue of their darkness-triggered spell’s renewing force. Nevertheless, that spell’s daily rhythm as well as the paradox of their ancient youthfulness weathered them. The immortal yet mortal Odette shuddered as the sureness of her swan-life again gave way to the puzzle of her human-life. And in the light of this mid-summer night’s moon, Odette pictured at once both youth’s openness and the hardened fatigue of experience. Tonight, as was her habit on moonlit nights, she sought counsel from the Seer that appeared in an alcove ice-hewed from the lakeside’s pinnacle-rock. Readied there, she stared at the odd owlish figure sculpted upon the rock by the accident of glacial doodles and the moon’s oblique light.
“What is the point of this spell, this fateful charm that is my life?”
Only the night’s ambient buzzes, rustles, and Loon calls replied. Surprised, but not disappointed for the owl would in a dream like motley of learned allusions talk past her rather than directly to her. She turned to leave. Then the owl spoke.
“True love, find it you will.”
“What I want to find is the point of my life.”
“The one that loves you failed to know you; and, so blundered…”
“Why is my life so…”
“Think but this and all is mended that “Oedipus” the play is happy ended. Like Cinderella, his life he fits.”
A harbinger cloud blocked the light and the image went blank.
“Puzzles and puzzles and puzzles. I can talk such nonsense to myself.”
The light flickered back and the owl said, “Your self, nonsense it is.”
“For the moment, perhaps. So, where is the sense that fits behind myself, my life, this charm?”
“Inside a secret box with a beetle, a cat, and a white whale too.”
“More riddles. Your point?”
“Maiden! Your life to fit; go whaling not. Swan! Take maiden far from cultured doubt.” But again the light fidgeted and smudged the owl’s voice; only its words, “clear, view, and downy future” were coherent. The moonlight now completely jammed by a wide chaff of cloudiness finished off the owl’s gnomic aphorizing. Gone it was.
In the mountains across the lake, Thor, the God of Thunder, was at his art. And as Odette hurried for shelter the quick arppeggiations of his sound hammered light caught her race in hasty pictures. Yet, within and against this restless stream Odette abruptly stood rapt. Compelled by Thor’s beckoning gestures, she had in a sense disappeared into the storm’s amplitudes and timbres. And so when the blended might of Thor’s hammer struck the cap of the pinnacle rock, Odette, fearless, was already one with his art’s sensuous flood.
Yet, through the bellows of Thor’s drama, Odette heard the repeated call of her name. And as the storm moved away its hold on her relaxed and the calling voice pitched in the rough brightness of a natural horn retuned her focus. She knew it; and the ambush of that knowledge did little to amend her turbulent mood. “Where is the sense? What is the point?” Roiled her. She shivered. Up on the path before her, the source of the calling voice and the mist-scattered patterns of a searching light drew near.
“Odette,” the voice called. But, barely an echo returned. And louder, “Odette.” And loudest, “ Odette.”
By now the voice was so near that the call of her name rippled her body. And as if guided by the echo return of that roughness, the caller’s light abruptly caught Odette’s human form. She partly sat on a water-wrinkled rock. Her eyes bored into the caller.
“What are you doing here?”
Startled Siegfried said, “Well, it’s nice to see you too Odette.” He turned the light away and offered her his backpack. “You are featherless and shivering. Here is a kit of clothes.”
Odette stood fast.
“Do you presume to ‘save’ me?”
“I love you as a swan, Odette.”
In the storm cleaned air the moonlight again shook across the lake and an idle breeze had nudged a concert of whispers. And into this ambient ‘silence,’ Odette and Siegfried weaved in keen counterpoint their memories of love and loss- of departures and returns: “Why did you go? Why didn’t you go with me?” After a measureless moment Siegfried said, “The clothes are yours packed by the rule haunted Myrtha, and the gentle prompter Hilda. But, there are no strings attached. You’re clear.”
“Not so. What is clear to me is that to be human is to be in darkness. Our lives are a pas de deux with shadows, are they not?”
A fir’s sudden crack and crash in the forest triggered a replay of Thor’s art and banished Seigfried from Odette’s attention. “Thor spoke to me,” she thought. “But, what did he say?”
And where her reason’s calculations failed, the thoughtful-sensuous blend of her soul continued the hunt. And she heard, “What wounds you holds you. Seigfreid.” Then urged by this oracular prompt Seigfreid reappeared to Odette unaltered but different. And stone still she stared at him as if to divine the meaning of what she heard.
Siegfried shrugged and placed the backpack and light at her feet. He then switched on a second light and went off toward the pinnacle rock. Soon, it loomed before him. And soon too, he flinched at the portent of its wreckage; the overhang, which once capped the pinnacle, was now a pile of blocky scrabble heaped at the hollow’s threshold. “Prophetic,” he thought. “There is special providence in this spire’s fall.”
The wraith-like Myrtha swished through a fissure in Odette’s stony reverie and demanded her attention. “You,” she gestured, “Here. Now. Get dressed.” Odette complied. Myrtha, long tempered in the furnace of love’s despair had hardened in her human aspect into a Fury of moral and (although she denied it) vengeful purpose. In her capacity as Guilt Factor she happily sells the worms of doubt and installs them in the bright apples of her sharers psyches. As a Swan, however, she was quite loveable.
Now appropriately dressed for life in the wilderness and intrigued by Myrtha’s alertness, Odette too squinted into the chill midnight. “They are headed here. All of them,” Myrtha said. Thin and clear, Odette could hear their faint voices calling. And soon, the weaving line of light baring Swan-Maidens came into view.
Hilda arrived first. She smiled and asked, “Hast heard Bright Male?”
Even the dour Myrtha grinned. For the weather-wise Hilda had a magical way to gather and arrange the arcane particulars of anyone’s dreams, memories, and waking raptures into coherent and often humorous vignettes. And for Odette, Hilda’s sibylline wit ignited a jet of feelings that rushed her articulation. “Left by the devious cruising Siegfried. Why? She ever hunts to find the sense of her Norn twisted necessity. I demand to see know my tapestry, my woven puzzle: the divine meaning guaranteed sense of her all at once will have been: ‘Where does she fit…what is the point?’” And through her memory’s care wrought grid Odette strained the words “wounds you holds you, wounds you holds you, wounds you holds you” until clean of any use. No help. And now, only ‘Seigfreid’ remained. And, “What of his rounding course,” she thought.
Odette looked to Hilda, “Why did Siegfried return?”
“Well, in some sense of the word, to ‘save’ us.”
And Myrtha commanded, “Find Siegfried. Bring him here.” Some in the corps of Swan-Maidens chortled; no one moved. And Siegfried walked up to them himself.
Without fanfare, Siegfried reported the immanent fate of the nine mountains and the lake that fix their sanctuary. “One of the Ancient Nine,” he said, “Mt Aesir, is a resting volcano soon to awaken. In a sense, we, here, now on Three Mile Lake are at our ‘places’ waiting for the curtain to go up on “Ragnarok.” Noise erupted. The steam of disbelief, the ash of denial, and the superheated flow of non-sequiturs covered the rough ground of the issue confronting them. And Siegfried eclipsed by the response to his message secreted his way back to the wreckage of the spire.
Yet, within the group’s ferment there also ran a cooling counter flow of challenge, cajolery, and solace. And as the clear morning light favored searching inquiry, the cygnecadians- the waking swan-humans and sleeping human-swans- partied up for a reconnaissance. That evening this charmed band of beings gathered to map their present and plot their future. What they already knew was that geographically their sanctuary localized in North Western United States in an area globally referred to as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Additionally, that the humans -of the monomorphic type- had designated their sanctuary a National Wildlife Refuge. More importantly, however, the day’s search revealed that the Refuge was closed to the public; that numerous “camps” of instrument-arrayed vehicles encircled Mt Aesir; that the intervals between the mountain’s ejection of steam and ash had shortened; and that each of them sensed the earth’s building discontent. For the group Seigfried’s metaphor of Ragnarok passed from rhetorical figure to prophetic report.
Yet manacled, however, by her want for certainty and her certainty that she can also find certainty’s occulted guarantee, Odette asked, “How long must one like Odin in contrary hang bleeding before the right runes come to magic this giant away from our house?”
And before Hilda could prevent Myrta from delivering an invoice of sins for which sacrifice by hanging offers the only payment. Seigfried said, “If time allowed, Madame, perhaps we should ask instead, what necessity grants to either hanging or runes the power to argue a boiling mountain out of its heat? What’s required now, I think, is a compass not a corps.”
“Perhaps,” said Myrta, “ we account now for an ancient debt faithlessly forgotten by us. We should sacrifice and Odin will hear this overture of atonement and guide us”
“Doubtful. Listen. We can hear Ragnarok’s Overture playing. Might not our overture (certainly in untimely discord) prompt Odin’s distracted swat rather than his wholesome generosity?”
“It isn’t Odin’s doom that is at hand but ours. So, we should sacrifice and implore.”
“In ancient stories we yet hold dear, the destruction that threatens the realm results from a shameful act committed by the reigning King or Queen and so to redeem herself and thus save her subjects she must pay… sometimes it’s with her life. Hence, I offer myself,” Odette said.
“What talk is this? Odette, you know that you are without such shame! And death-dealing gambles and self-inflicted wounds has never been our way.”
“Still, I shall go to Odin to ensure your lives.”
“You exaggerate your own importance, I think. And, why do you assume that our present circumstance results from this yet obscure indebtedness? And, how do we know that it is Odin’s voice that holds this terrible note?”
“I sense and believe that I must do this.”
“Brava! Whether you hang and bleed or get carried off by some great beast, your action will do little more that serve you up to the nowhere we will go.” Oblivious to Siegfried’s entreaties, Odette set about on her self-sacrificial mission. “Hilda, please; work some magic here.”
“Stop,” commanded an unfamiliar voice. Surprise bound Odette’s movement toward self-sacrifice and freed the others from the paralysis of their disbelief. In fact, unable to fly many of the group readied to fight. Their sharp looks sized the speaker for weakness; her kindly manner, however, softened their alarm.
Odette went up to their sudden guest, “Who are you?” Within seconds, however, Odette and others as well noted that the look of this fit Park Ranger rhymed near perfectly with…. “Hilda, we know that you are a paragon of theatrics, but this likeness to yourself surpasses prodigy.”
Siegfried then made his way to the Ranger and with studied ease he lifted her into a shoulder sit-a move that seemed natural to them both.
He caught his breath and said, “Let me assure you that her flesh and blood are certain.”
“And you know her?! You bore her here, didn’t you? Have you betrayed me us again?”
“I love you as a swan Odette.” Siegfried then slowly promenaded around himself,
“Ladies, meet Iris. She is Hilda’s great, great granddaughter. And as charmed as our lives maybe, we nevertheless benefit from Guardian Angels like Iris.” Whether through the power of the revelation, the incidental play of their shelter’s magical properties, or a proud Hilda’s dramatic powers, as Siegfried turned Iris became radiant with light. The turn complete, “Sadly, we outlive our Angels. They are our human offspring and their offspring. Nevertheless, they nourish our being. Many like Iris and her brethren work to protect who and what we are- such as making our present sanctuary a National Park- and by telling our stories.”
“Sacrifice not a moment more of your time,” Iris said. “And I beseech you to leave at first light. Follow the lake’s north and west pointing arrow. Fly until you see a glacier falling into the sea. Search near there for a new sanctuary. Please go; and live in peace rather than apology.”
In silence, Siegfried lifted Iris to the floor. For the Cygnecadians, she manifested both the realization and the possibilities of their once and future ends. And softly a symphony of conversations developed. And, doubt, at least for the moment, fled Odette as her surprise at Iris turned to recognition. Or, perhaps, it was a sort of conversion for her picture of the world altered. Now, she heard in this symphony of voices and words and gestures not an elegy on life’s inscrutable ends alone, but rather a hosanna for confident engagement. Hilda’s look nudged her and she answered the telepathic call.
And Hilda sent, “Fiercely conscious and keen seers, we are well fit to live engaged and un-puzzled lives. Even Myrta.”
“Yes,” returned Odette. “Now I see, that that is what the moonflake Owl’s riddles meant to show me: that the puzzle of my human life is the want for its providential assembly. Oh. Yes. It also foresaw a “downy future.” Was it telling me to stay a swan?”
“It is our soul’s favored shape: no doubt.” And as Hilda kissed Iris and hugged Seigfreid, she sent, “And, this doubtless too fits our re-gained Siegfried’s purpose: to out fly the bind and strike of ancient doubts and thus win peace.” A slight grin fit her certainty’s nod.
And through the tiny cracks of time that bridged Hilda’s news to her next words, Odette caught in the flashes of her divided attention the erratic flight of her feelings for Siegfried. But as the threshold of their swan-aspect drew near Odette swiftly exited her fractional inner dance; and she without a ripple to her outward stillness refocused. And like a masterful conductor, she raised her arms and commanded her fellow player’s attention. “We must be on our way,” she said. “And by my re-virtued compass and its certain reach I ‘know-where’ we will go. Shall we go?”
Softly dusted by the dawn’s pastels, the things and beings of the Mt Aesir National Wildlife Refuge gently reappeared after night’s seeming erasure. And Iris from the Park’s Sunrise Station and through powerful binoculars watched with care the shattered pinnacle’s yet dim shore. “Ah, I see them,” she said to herself. She forgot that she was not alone. The human-swans had clustered at water’s edge. “What are they doing? Oh, I should have guessed, they are warning all the Park’s sentient beings of their immanent danger.”
“What?! Where?! See what? Warn who?” asked an alarmed fellow Ranger, who quickly turned his binoculars toward the lake.
“The swans,” replied the startled Iris. And when she looked again, she saw a moonbow of white bands arched from the lake’s morning mists into the clean air. “Missed it,” she said. She had hoped to see their transformation. And when all achieved the light, the swan flight turned toward Sunrise Station and on the way reformed into triangles of three arranged into a greater triangle that pointed North West. As the Cygnecadians flew past, their collected triangle titled toward the station.
“Impossible,” said the Ranger.
“Not for them. They were showing me that all 27 of them left together.”
“You need a rest, Iris.”
Iris watched the flight vanish into a measureless point then put her binoculars away. “Yes. I shall retire soon. I have family that I need to attend to.”
Later that day the top one thousand feet of Mt Aesir blew off and Three Mile Lake soon choked on blasted trees and burnt rock.