The Flautist In The Woods

The Flautist In The Woods September 28, 2023

A true story:

I went for my usual run down the Trolley Trail  — the paved trail along the old streetcar line between Catonsville and Ellicott City, winding through the woods next to  Cooper Branch — with Muddy the Dog this morning. First time I’ve seen blue skies in a few days, after Tropical Storm Ophelia  gave us a soaking, so that’s nice. But thinking heavy thoughts about how things went off the rails in my personal life at the start of the summer, dreams dashed.

Even toying with radical ideas — what if I just left this life of mine and made a fresh start somewhere? Not thinking seriously about it, just toying — it’s not on the table at all as long as Mom is here. And the practical realities don’t line up at all. It was really just prompted by suddenly hearing from an old crush who’s on the other side of the country, some idle “what if” speculation.

But “am I even in the right place?” was a thought in my head.

And that’s when I heard the music. A flute.

Is that a recording? Someone in a house up on the hill with their stereo going?

No, as I continue down the trail I can locate the sound better. (Notable that most days, we would have turned off the paved Trolley Trail to the unpaved trails in Banneker Park before this point, but muddy conditions kept us on the pavement today.)

The music is coming from inside the woods! We round a bend and I look up a side trail, and I see a man clad in black, standing in the middle of the woods, playing a recorder.

And I am reminded, in a way I cannot ignore, that this river valley where I make my home is most definitely a magickal place. It is the right place for me to be.

Via Wikimedia Commons, from user Pymouss, CC BY-SA 3.0 Deed

I wave at the flautist in black, give him a thumbs-up. He waves back.

Muddy and I get to the end of the trail, turn around and head back up the hill. As we come back I see the flautist in black cross the Trolley Trail and walk into the woods up another side trail. As we get up to him, he’s about twenty feet back into the woods, close enough to talk to but half-hidden by the trees, still mysterious.

“Thanks for the music,” I say.

“You’re welcome,” he says, and we continue on our respective ways.

I have written before about how the way to do magic is to do weird stuff, and make it connect in your mind with what you want. The way to be magic, I might similarly say, the way to live a magical life, is to connect the weird stuff that happens to you or around you, with the issues and questions you have going on in your life. Look for guidance and the world will tell you what you need to hear.

Or put another way: it’s an old cliche that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”, but it’s more accurate to say that when the student is ready, the teaching will become visible. I am 99.5% sure that this was an actual human being — perhaps a local musician getting ready for a gig at the Maryland Renaissance Festival or some such venue, driven outdoors by neighbors or roommates — and not a non-corporeal apparition. Yet his presence made visible the message I needed in that moment, a message not originating with him but somewhere on the boundary between myself and the rest of the universe.

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