This story is part of a collection,
tentatively called “Ghost Whisperer:
Stories from a Nordic Witch Stranded
in the South.” They were mainly written
during my first year in the Appalachian
Mountains, having moved from Sweden,
living at the end of a road, with no green
card to allow me to work and my husband,
Michael, working at the Monroe Institute.
Being a stranger in a strange land those
days, ghosts started to talk to me.
Spider Old Woman walks among the stars. She was the one who helped me make peace with the kingdom of crawlers those first months after I arrived. Not in the form of the two inch wide, fat spider who sat on the bathroom wall close to my face and scared me half to death; that Michael killed, accidently rubbing purplish goo in his eye, leaving me laying awake for hours watching his face, fearing his eye would disappear into a tennis ball of swelling; but as the thin legged slow moving creatures Michael called Daddy Long Legs, and I sometimes called Mama Long Legs. Watching them carefully testing their surroundings with tiny feet before they took a step was calming. And that is how I was inspired to talk to Spider Old Woman when I sat in the swing chair, rocking back and forth.
She is ancient, and native. Therefor I trusted her. With her came another new and unexpected friend. Unexpected as it is more or less forbidden in the circles I usually move in to claim a Native American guide, out of embarrassment from earlier overexploitations of Native American people's culture. Nevertheless, here I was, a guest on Native American land, so it would have been highly impolite to ignore the presence of this ghost because I came from a country with unresolved, collective, cross cultural relationship issues.
I was thankful when he accompanied me on my long walks. As far as ghosts go, he was less intrusive than most. He had no immediate needs, but simply walked beside me in soft deerskin clothes and the most impeccable hair I've ever seen, talking loosely of the dreaming mountains, deer tracks and the incomparable virtue of turtle soup. Sometimes we didn't talk at all. I just heard his footsteps beside me, and that made me feel safer. Because as hard as it is for me to admit, those first months I was afraid.
There are different kinds of fear. This was the stomach-turning fear of being on a thread of life where the only way is forward. It came from knowing I'd made all the right choices, but not trusting that I had what it took to measure up. It was the fear of having lived half my life and knowing that the trial period was now over. Whatever happened for the rest of my life was entirely up to me. It was a fear enhanced by my location, far away from all familiar distractions: a draining job, friends to gossip with, well known toys to play with, intensified by the shame in realizing I was more dependent on these familiarities than I cared to admit. It was the fear stemming from having a roof over my head, food on the table, of being showered in love, of falling asleep to the music of crickets and having oceans of time to create all I ever wanted to create: in short, to have all I ever wanted.
"You’re a weaver now," said Spider Old Woman, as I rocked back and forth.
"Keep the balance, all you have to do is to put one foot in front of the other," said the Medicine Man,", as he walked beside me.
I didn't know his name, so I called him the Medicine Man. I didn't dare to ask, with the deep-seated anxiousness, when faced with the risk of doing something inappropriate, that only people raised in Sweden can understand.
The Medicine Man suited him. He healed my most urgent needs effortlessly and discreetly. So inconspicuous was his presence that I might have missed him altogether had I not been told of the Native American ghost family who lived close to the house. First, they lived in the house. Or rather, where the house happened to be built: their dwelling place forerunning the cabin. To be even more specific: their living quarters happened to be just where the closet of the cabin was placed. When Michael had his first round of Rocky Mountain fever, he was almost delirious from the disease and his efforts to try to work at a new job regardless. He suspected there was ghosts in the closet and cleaned the closet repeatedly with smudging sage. Finally, two local healers took pity on him and came over to the cabin armed with herbs, therapeutic sprays, big hearts and clear seeing.
"There is a family living in the closet who wonders why this crazy man insists on running into their living quarters and smudge sage around them time," one of the healers said. A deal was made that the Medicine Man and his family would move to a suitable spot just outside the house, and Michael would stop smudging their home.
The Medicine Man's family consisted of a wife and a child of indeterminate gender. The few times I got a glimpse of his wife she always leaned over a cooking pot: content, lean and quiet.
"She doesn't talk much," confirmed the Medicine Man.
The silent, constantly cooking, humble woman created small jolts of uncomfortable electric shocks along my high-strung feminist nerves. The Medicine Man rebuked me. It should be beneath me to interpret silence as weakness or cooking as unimportant. His wife did more in her stillness and silence, than he himself did with all his walking and words. When he spoke I started to understand - on a much deeper level than ever before - silence as an active agent. Stillness as a necessary force to move the game forward. To change the game.
I had not gotten around to replace my Swedish cellphone and its connection was stone dead by the cabin. Neither did I want to overuse our data plan, which we had ended up paying loads of money for as a result of our Skyping sessions before I arrived. I didn't care for news, not having decided if I were to read Swedish news or news from the States, longing for none of them. When Michael went back to work during the days all of this made me feel a bit isolated. Now, I deliberately began to enjoy the silence. And the walks. And even cooking.
I looked up the tribes who have lived in the area or nearby, out of both curiosity and curtesy. With my usual inability to limit myself I covered the timeline of 50 000 years until now, tried to understand the movement and development of at least ten tribes, that of course intermingled and changed course over the years. The only thing I found out for sure was that turtles used to be a delicacy consumed over many thousands of years, the animal having the practical inclination to hibernate just under the sand in the creeks, ready for plucking even in cold winter season. Apart from curiosities as such, details have never been my strength: years, numbers and names often tumble around in my brain with nowhere to anchor. What stays with me has always been the stories, the heavy, sweet sap stories that flow over in all directions: Coyote: beloved trickster, Turtle: foundation and prosperity bringer, and Spider Old Woman: grandmother, weaver.
She taught me how to shoot threads directly out of my own body, out of my own life experiences. Creating life from life.
I didn't do much those first months. I had been under the illusion that as soon as I settled in, which shouldn't take me more than a week or two, I would use the time being in a constant flow of creativity. This did not happen. Even to think about opening a sketchbook, or edit a text, made me unbearably and unexplainably tired. I wrote something here and scribbled something there, but with little or no evident result. Instead I walked, cooked: adding to the household by making tasty vegetarian warm soups and casseroles that cost almost nothing. And I talked to Spider Old Woman.
I worried sometime that I was turning into some kind of housewife, even if the concept was as alien to me as talking to ghost are to many other people. But in Virginia the homemaker concept seems to be a real thing undertaken by real people. What if it was contagious? Michael managed to convince me I was in no way in the risk zone of waking up one day longing to make apple pies. The Medicine Man said nothing about the subject.
I asked him one day, on a walk that gave us breathtaking views over the mountains, why him and his family stilled lived by the field. Where there no place they wanted to move on to, somewhere their families and friends where?
"We lived in the best of times, in the most prosperous of places: game everywhere, boundless of things to pick and eat. Everywhere were materials for art and games. The whole of nature was our garden. There was no shortage of land, no strife’s there. We stayed for this. But also, for the ones that came after us ...".
I didn't ask what the last sentence meant, and he did not offer to explain it.
It was a mystery far beyond me, interrelated to his people and their faith. Though in my soul of souls I knew it was interrelated to all of us.
And the small woman leaning over her cooking pot was a key player. When nature rests and the stars glow bright and cold, she is the listener, the source, the cooker, the weaver, and she is walking over the stars with Spider Old Woman. Changing the game. Creating the world anew again, while her husband, the Medicine Man, heals it.
The Medicine Man was first published in July edition of The Echo World 2020.