An October Theophany

An October Theophany October 18, 2023

a log fence in a forest in Autumn, with water in the distance
image via Pixabay

I went on another October hike.

I wasn’t supposed to be hiking today. I have deadlines and there isn’t any money. I woke up at nearly noon and had plenty of writing to do, but the first thing I did was jump into my stained hiking clothes and make sure my muddy hiking shoes were still in the backseat of Serendipity. Then I was on the road, across the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge that I call the Brig o’ Dread, through the chimney of West Virginia and crossing the Pennsylvania Border to visit the mineral spring.

Mine was the only car in the parking lot when I arrived.

A crow was picking at a deer carcass by the side of the road, but he flew off as I approached, a crescent of black wings.

There was no sound but the sound of rain, even though it wasn’t raining– the constant, steady pattering of soft things hitting the ground, not rain but leaves.

I started by the stream, but there was barely any stream, even though the earth was muddy.

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, Alleluia: Et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista, salvi facti sunt, Et dicent: Alleluia, Alleluia.

What do you do when you can’t see the water anymore?

I guess you go to where it used to be.

I hiked up the stretch of the path that always makes me breathless, straight uphill, using tree roots as stair steps. All around me was that rain that wasn’t water, pitter patter pitter patter, a chorus of dead things falling softly to the earth without pain. Everything was gold and red and tawny, overhead and to the side of me and covering the ground, and then there were the pines. Gray trunks and green boughs towered up in a dizzying spiral, and the carpet below me was not leaves but needles wafting incense.

Beyond the pines there’s a place where there used to be a cabin, for sick people to rest. Pilgrims used to bring the sick to the cliff to drink the water coming out of the rocks, because it was supposed to be good for your health. Now the pilgrims are all gone, the state park warns everyone not to drink the water, and the cabin is nothing but a stone foundation. I rested on one of the stones for a minute, listening to the trees go to sleep.

Everything was colorful, everything was beautiful, everything was clean and musical and lively because it was dying at its appointed time.

The waterfall, when I got there, wasn’t flowing. There were no streams of water from the rock, only red streaks in the shale where the water had been. There was no cataract, only a muddy grotto. Other hikers were milling about the grotto, taking pictures, so I didn’t stay. I went on to the bridge over the ravine where the stream was no longer.

In among the dead leaves on the bridge, there were red round shapes of a different kind.

They were rose petals.

Someone had torn apart a bright red rose right here on my path.

I stopped on the bridge and talked to Saint Therese for awhile, because in spite of it all, I am Catholic. I told her how I’d disliked her because of her cutesy Victorian writing style, which wasn’t her fault. I told her that I didn’t trust her because so many people who hurt me and drove me away had been very devoted to her in a cutesy way.  I mentioned the secular Carmelites with the big statue of Saint Therese who told me I didn’t belong. I reminded her of the tiny Byzantine Catholic church with the stained glass window dedicated to her which bullied us and threw us out for Adrienne’s autism and my opposition to Trump.  I talked about that time I’d prayed for a rose to tell me whether I was finally having a baby again or not, and saw a rose, and thought it was a sign, and several weeks later gushed blood– and then, at the ultrasound, there was nothing but thick endometrium and severe amenorrhea, but the PCOS wasn’t diagnosed for another five years.

I said her parents sounded like well-meaning but horrible parents for raising their daughters in such an eccentric way. I talked about what a terrible father Louis must have been, to permit his fragile 15-year-old with obsessive compulsive disorder to enter a convent. I mentioned that they were all very brutal to poor Leonie, though I don’t think they meant to be, and I couldn’t forgive them for that. I said that all of her family sounded autistic like Adrienne and me. I told her what I’ve learned about autism. I said that I wasn’t exactly glad she went through such torment and Dark Night of the Soul when she was dying, but in another way I was, because it was the only thing that made me feel close to her.

I whispered that I hoped we could be friends, simply because we’d both had terrible lives.

Pitter patter. Pitter patter. 

eloi eloi lama sabachthani.

Tout est grâce.

Around me, the world continued to die.

Before I went to get Adrienne from school, I drove past the lake where I used to take her swimming. The water was as brown as the sand, white where it reflected the gray sky. All the trees that used to be bright green were shades of orange and gold. The signs warned “no swimming” until summer comes again, but they didn’t say I couldn’t wade.

I slipped off my shoes and stepped in the water, feeling the bright sting of the cold and then numbness that wasn’t at all unpleasant. I wanted to swim right across the lake to the woods on the other side.

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, Alleluia: Et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista, salvi facti sunt, Et dicent: Alleluia, Alleluia.

Maybe the Water hasn’t left after all.

Maybe He is still here.




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