Well in the Woods
Peridot Green XI, Spring 2018
The Well in the Woods is a site in a dark forest — an oasis of familiarity in the realm of the unknown. It is the first respite a hero finds on her fearsome road. Freshwater is something nourishing to help her continue on. A sense of dehydration is a reminder of mortality, and water can keep that at bay. Despite the normalcy of water and thirst, this well is a mystic site, providing a taste of the magic that will define her journey.
We learned about this site from Joseph Campbell and his menagerie of myths. Campbell writes of the Immovable Spot of the legend of Buddha, or the axis of the universe around which the world revolves. In many tales, a great dark wood grows here, and within this wood springs a well, “the umbilical point through which the energies of eternity break into time” (Hero of 1000 Faces, 38). Through the well passes the abstractions of the infinite abyss, to become the legible flows of energy, of goodness and pain and light and dark and the building blocks of all the world’s stories. This location is, in West African narratives, the center of the world from which all directions (North, South, East and West) emanate.
The hero can only find the well with the aid of her helper. Helpers, like the birds dressing Cinderella for her party, help her prepare herself, or arm herself, or equip herself in a way very particular to their own talents. At American Cyborg, we’ve each selected a bird helper for our particular journey within the company. In this catalog’s story, we’ve considered each of our birds, and their unique contributions to our collective tasks. We’ve also revisited our first helper, the rabbit.
The Well in the Woods is where all our birds have gathered for a drink.
With much trepidation, she entered the magical forest. A heavy mist mingled with the trees and the sun seemed tired of pushing its light through the leaves. It’s a dark labyrinth, she thought. How am I ever going to find the well, concealed deep within the forest’s mystery? The very air cooled, and as she moved inward, she frequently looked back to light of the treeline. I can turn back now and not be lost in here. At that moment, a bluebird came in from the sun and breezed just overhead, alighting a branch farther into the forest. She watched it preen and hop along, singing songs, puffing happily a feathery orange chest, and she smiled. Such a little singer! See how it is not afraid, how it finds comfort deep in this that moments ago she was considering fleeing. Squirrels and rabbits scattered through the forest floor, chanting birds of the trees, you bits of bravery, you give me courage, but help me if you can. I must seek divine things but do not know the way. The bluebird chirped happily, fluttered and dove into the perplexity. You happy piece of sky, I will follow you, she said and left her sunlit line, her village, her family, her known, her all in all behind.
Shortly into her journey, the bluebird flew atop a large stone wall that seemed to continue endlessly in either direction. She walked along the wall to find an entrance but there seemed to be no way past the massive structure. After much walking she spotted a tiny rabbit, hopping along the base of the stone.
“Hi there, little fuzzy one. I don’t suppose you know the way in, do you?”
The rabbit wiggled its whiskers and stared at her unafraid. It cocked its head to the side and seemed to be asking her, “What is your purpose here?”
“Oh, just a stroll through the woods,” she lied, smiling at it, and repeated her question hopefully, “Do you know the way in?” The rabbit simply turned and hopped a short distance away, nibbling at a patch of grass.
“How strange,” she said, and continued searching along the wall. After another fruitless attempt she sighed frustratedly and sat down against the piled stone. She watched the rabbit hop about nearby and began to despair that her journey into the magical forest seemed to be coming to so short an end.
Upon a nearby branch a cardinal, furiously red amongst the emerald glowing leaves, was hammering its head down to the wood. It is using that strong beak to break seeds, she thought. Hard little shells housing a bit of nourishment. We protect our fragile treasures with a tough shell of lies but how hard telling the truth can be at times. The truth, that like strong beak can break through to what is needed. She suddenly regretted lying to the little rabbit.
“My furry friend, I must apologize,” she said sadly. “I lied to you earlier. I am not here merely for a walk in the forest. I am seeking the well in the woods, but I am not able. This wall, the first obstruction across my path, has proved too much for me it seems.” She wiped a tear quickly away from her cheek.
The rabbit watched her as she spoke, then hopped to the wall. She watched as it started nibbling at something in the stone. Suddenly, it was pulling at a tiny root. It pulled and pulled and a grinding sound came from the wall. Dirt and dust poured from the stones and a section turned inward, creating an opening. The rabbit hopped through and out of sight.
She leapt up and jumped joyfully.
“Oh! You cute thing! You have saved me!” She cried and ran through the opening and past the wall.
Inside she saw the rabbit scratching the forest floor and after a brief glance at her it sped deep into the wood and out of sight.
At the spot where it had been scratching there was a shape. A grouping of lines swept within a rectangle, a speckling of holes, and tiny twigs rising upward from the sketch. “It’s a map!” She realized, looking at the river and stream lines and miniature twig trees.
“Thank you!” She called into the trees to the vanished rabbit.
Looking ahead she saw a winding brook burbling in a corresponding way, and a tree that was represented by a twig. Overjoyed, she tried to put the map to memory. What a wonderful bunny, she thought, and after a quick drink from the brook she marched deeper into the magic forest.
After quite a bit of walking, the underbrush became very thick. It thrashed at her as she struggled to move through. Claws of thorn grasped at her hair and raked her legs, arms, and face. Sweat poured from her efforts and her chest heaved. Ache, the body, the steps, the bout with the very forest. It was like she was fighting with it at every moment. The exhaustion began to creep into all her movements and she fell down again and again.
“Little Bunny, I think your directions were made for someone much smaller,” she cried.
At that she noticed, through the brush at a little distance, a worn path making its way through the trees.
“Oh! A trail!” she cried out, relieved. It wasn’t moving in quite the same direction that the map had been directing her, but it had to be easier than this horrid brush. She pushed through to the trail and with a big alleviated sigh she walked easily down the empty way. It was fast moving now and she whistled as she went, trying to mimic the bluebird she had seen earlier.
A lot of ground was gained as she skipped along her trail and she smiled. “I’ll be at the well in no time,” she happily thought, until a moment later when she came upon another wall.
“Not another wall! Mr. Bunny! Where are you? I need you to open another door for me,” she called out. It was then that she saw the opened door in the wall that had already been opened by her bunny friend. Not only that, but she saw the winding brook burbling and the tree at which she had started.
“Oh no! I’ve been going in circles!” She cried out. Hurriedly she went to where the map had been drawn, but it was no longer there. With tears in her eyes she started back toward the thick brush.
After some time and many cuts and scrapes she stopped to rest in a beam of sun breaking through an opening in the trees. As she gazed upward she watched a condor sailing in long, looping circles. Its black swooping form moving round and round the skies. It’s going in circles like me, she thought, and chuckled to herself. Just then, the condor turned quickly and dove into the treetops off in the distance.
“I am lost,” she thought to herself. “Lost, scraped, bruised, and so very tired and hungry. Maybe this condor has found something interesting.” She got up and headed in the direction of the condor’s dive.
The condor’s honk and squawk could be heard at the approach, and when she pulled back a leafy curtain she gasped at the scene. The condor stood pecking over a dead rabbit. She cried out running toward it and scared the condor away.
“My poor bunny friend! Oh! What happened to you?” She stroked its fur and started to cry. “Don’t worry. I won’t let the condor eat you. I’ll find a nice place to put you into the ground, your home,” she said, but as she started to pick the rabbit up she saw another map underneath it, scratched into the ground. Her tears dimpled the small map and she quickly wiped them away.
“No, I’ll take you to the well in the woods,” she said. “The goddess there will know what to do.” She placed the small creature in a scarf wrap and carried on, following the new map it had drawn.
Her steps began to fall heavily, and an empty pit in her stomach seemed to spread fatigue through her limbs. Eventually she found patches of berry bushes, but she was not the only hungry creature in the forest. Birds of all sorts, but mostly starlings, were moving through the brush picking red and purple berries. She rushed to the bushes and picked all that she could, but only ended up with a disappointing handful. The starlings had ravished the berry patch until bare twigs were all that was left.
“You greedy birds!” she yelled.
As she ate the meager meal that she had collected she noticed a nearby bush thick with red, round, luscious berries. Thrilled, she ran to the bush and plucked a few from the leafy bush.
“They look so tasty,” she said, and her stomach rumbled in agreement. Just as she was about to toss the plump bits into her mouth she saw a few starlings on branches just above a the bush. Not just a few, but an entire tree full of them. Why had they eaten all of the other berries, but not these? She let them fall through her fingers one by one, each a drop of sadness filling her heart. They must be poison, she despaired. Desperately she looked far into the woods for anything that she could eat. It was then that she spied a very large shadowy figure moving through the trees, and she quickly hid behind the bush.
As she peered through, she saw that the figure was a hooded man. He was feeding a magpie that was moving closer and closer to him. She watched as he led the magpie to a branch and with one hand feeding the hapless bird, and the other moving in from behind, in a single quick motion, he snatched the magpie from the branch. Its cries filled the air and the stir caused all of the starlings to rise in a chaotic dark cloud from the trees overhead. They swirled upward in a momentous flock, shifting like a single living body. The magpie, on the other hand, was quieted with a swift jerking motion of the man’s hands. She held her hand over her mouth to keep a gasp from escaping. The man looked briefly around, but didn’t seem to see her, and lurched deeper into the forest.
Despite her fear of the man, her hunger was stronger. He might lead me to something that I can eat, she thought. So, she followed, always keeping a safe distance behind. Her steps she kept as soft as she could. The forest seemed to become darker as they moved into pines and she shuddered at this new frightening purlieu. Should she be following this mysterious stranger? Where was he headed? And how far from her goal was he taking her?
In a small clearing the light finally came through and she saw the flock of starlings. They were dancing in a dark cloud, morphing the sky with their collective shapes. A few times she thought they almost formed the shape of a finger pointing. Pointing her away in the opposite direction. But at that moment the man continued on his way deeper into the unseen. She moved to follow, but the starlings, in a single burst of movement dove into the clearing between them, making such a cacophonous roar that the man stopped and spun around. She ducked behind a tree. After a quick look at the starlings he turned and continued. The flock seemed to be moving between her and the man. They rose in the sky and once again formed a pointing finger in the opposite direction.
“My feathered friends, I asked for your guidance when I started and I believe I must follow it when it is offered. I will go in your direction.”
She left the man and the bleak pines, following the dancing flocks of starlings instead.
As she walked she stroked the fur of the rabbit wrapped in her scarf. The last map that it had drawn had shown a thick line moving through the middle of the map. She had mused that this was most probably a river. The sound of heavily rushing water now coming through the trees in front of her showed her guess correct. It was not only a river, but a wildly rushing rapid thrashing at the rocks in loud growls and crashing. The mist of it hit her face and felt sublime after the great distances she had walked. It was beautifully dangerous, she thought. And with no way across. Not a bridge nor a tree, nor a shallow to wade. It was a wall of sorts, once more.
“Mr. Bunny, I could really use your magic again,” she said.
A strong wind moved in and the trees began swaying, bowing to the monstrous clouds that swiftly moved overhead. Her hair whipped about her head and the air became chilled.
“Creating a storm was not what I had in mind,” she addressed the bunny held to her chest.
She saw a tiny finch, fluffed in its basket nest, high up in a nearby tree. It swayed side to side as the winds tossed the trees. Suddenly, it abandoned its nest, and with a short happy hopping flight it sailed under a rock overhang.
“Good idea, little finch! I’m with you,” she said, ducking through the wind and into the shelter of the rocks. The finch nestled into a nook of the rocks and prepared to wait out the storm. She did her best to do the same.
The winds screamed and howled. Flashes and bursts of lightning cracked the sky. Thunder pounded and rumbled the ground. A shock of lightning struck the tree that had housed the tiny finch’s nest and the tree split and tumbled, hanging precariously over the river.
“Oh! Your home!” she cried to the finch as it rested stoutly in the rocks.
As quickly as the storm moved in, it moved out. The sun burst through the clouds and fell in rays over the forest. The river now roared a milky brown, and even more angry than before.
“How will I ever get across?” she wondered. The finch came out from the rocky shelter and with its hopping flight, skittered around where its tree and nest used to be.
“It’s gone, little finch. We are both without homes at the moment,” she said sadly. She watched the finch and its happy, hopping flight once more as it moved about the downed tree, and realized that it had fallen partially over the river.
“I will hop as you hop in flight little one. I will make it across this mean river. You show me the way,” she said boldly to the finch. Climbing up the charred stump of the tree, she carefully hopped from branch to branch and down the trunk that extended over the raging river. At one point the branches became too thin and she had to lower herself down onto a boulder amongst the rapids. It was wet and slick, but she managed to jump to another boulder and then another until with one final leap she had made the opposite rocky shore.
The finch tweeted near her and she thanked it. On the shore under some downed branches she spied the nest that had fallen from the crashing tree.
“It’s your home! We found it!”
She picked it up and gently placed the nest in a neighboring tree.
“I hope it’s as nice for you,” she said to the finch, which then flew onto the tree and inspected. After a few flutters of its feathers it hopped into the nest and fluffed into a tiny ball and began tweeting.
“Goodbye Finchy. I hope one day I’ll get back to my home as well.”
With happy hopping steps she moved away from the river and continued her journey on the other side.
A heat and humidity settled on the forest. It felt like an oppressive weight pressing her down. She had been walking for so long, and the forest stretched flat and seemingly endless before her. Her feet dragged at each step and she had to frequently stop to rest. There wasn’t a brook, stream, or pond in sight and she hadn’t had a drink of water since her river crossing, and that felt like lifetimes ago. Her sore lips were parched and blisters covered her battered feet. She rested on a patch of dried leaves and stared at the heavens.
“I don’t think I can make it much further,” she sighed out. “I’m not even entirely sure that I’m headed in the right direction. I can’t even cry. I have no more tears left. What a distance this is. How can anybody be expected to make it to this well?”
As she stared into the blue of the sky she saw a small speck moving at such heights that she worried it might be burned by the sun. Squinting, she noticed the crook in the wings and the shape she knew to be an albatross. She had seen them many times in the past by shorelines. She knew their calls, their dances, their enormous wingspans. She knew of their epic journeys around the world. These feathered wanderers, explorers of earth. They cross oceans in flight.
“Get up, you laggard!” she said to herself. “That albatross has probably come from other worlds. It never tires. Surely you can keep moving. You have two strong legs to carry you. They have more to give.”
She pulled herself up, shaking away the dizziness in her head.
“Spread those wings, and keep moving.”
Evening swallowed the forest. Specks of green light, fireflies, blinked throughout the trees and shrubs. They left long streaks of light behind them which tangled with each other in bright knots as they floated about her. More and more of them lit their miniature torches and the air glowed with their light. She spied toadstools glowing on the forest floor, and fiery eyes staring at her from the blanket of night. The light swirled around her, mingling with stars, and she managed a laugh at the beautiful scene.
“I might have died as well, Mr Bunny,” she addressed the rabbit wrapped in her scarf. “I think I’m floating up into the heavens. I’m dancing with the stars. They are all around me. And look! There’s the moon hiding in those trees over there, making all the leaves glow.”
It wasn’t the moon, she realized, but an intense green luminance, rising from a dell. With all the strength she could muster she headed toward the light.
She had found it! The well in the woods! It was actually there before her. A oval of stone with a pool of peridot green water emanating a brilliance. It was an eye with a pupil of water — beautiful water. Swarms of fireflies swirled above it in a lovely glittering column. She crawled to the edge of the water, her face green with the light.
“Oh Goddess of the Well! I implore you to help this tired mortal. I have come from far away for your guidance and your assistance. Please!” Her breath ran away from her. There was no answer. “Goddess of the Well! Show yourself! Please! I’m so tired.”
The world began to spin. She leaned forward to look into the well and for a moment she thought she saw her, but it was only her own image staring back. Where are you?
Her arms gave way, and she fell headlong into the waters of the well.
She sank down into the waters that seemed to swaddle her aching body. Her journey here was done, and to what end? Was all this an empty well? A useless quest to an absent hope. Striving, fighting, fearing, despairing, our nests torn away — just food for wicked hunters. I’ll leave it for the birds, she thought, but suddenly she heard a voice deep within the waters.
“Do not despair,” it said. “Drink, and be alive. You have only just begun your adventure. You must carry on, only now fixed with the tutelage of your little friends. They have adorned your new aegis. Each lesson a boon and the impetus of your search for this place. We give to you: the happiness and singing of the bluebird; the power of truth in the beak of the cardinal; in the condor, the internalizing of the inevitable and acceptance of death; the collective knowledge of the flocking starling; the adaptability and insouciance of the finch; and the endurance of the albatross. Now rise up, be nourished and strong.”
“Goddess,” she replied. “I thank you will all of my heart for these gifts that you and my feathery friends have bestowed on me. But, I feel my needs have reached the simplistic. I am so depleted of this world that I only want of something to eat. How silly to ask of a Goddess.”
“You have always had the means to eat, look to the condor,” the voice said, and bubbles poured from beneath her, raising her to the surface of the waters. She found that a fire was burning beside the well and she sat at the fire and dried. Sadly, she unwrapped the rabbit from her scarf and stroked its fur once more. A bluebird was nearby singing happily in a tree and she smiled.
“I thank you for being, my bunny friend. You have saved me more than once. That life requires death should stay my sadness but it does not. I thank you for the life you extend to me as I make my own way under the condor’s beak.”
After she had cooked and ate the rabbit she slept beside the well in the woods. She would need plenty of rest. Her adventure was just beginning.