In the night but before slumber three independent witnesses, two of which had earbuds in their ears with electrical devices turned on, heard a swishing sound loud and distinct and impossibly peculiar. There is a level of astonishment wherein one exclaims something but there is another place, past that, where all you can do is listen or watch in amazement.
The sound seemed one hundred percent paranormal and lasted about five seconds. No angel or alien, mist or message, came out from the area the sound was coming from. Five seconds sounds short, but when hearing something like that a true five seconds is incredibly long. Again, it was a swoosh that began loudly and gained in momentum and then stopped abruptly enough.
I checked every corner of the house and property and went through the usual suspects. Cold air return doing something funny. Melting roof ice. An electrical surge of some sort. A television. A radio. A pool or other cover making a sound. Other and other and other. It was none of those.
So what does it have to do with the elusive Chaga? I have no idea. Vortex, deceased relative, Ascension, et cetera et al., maybe it affected or influenced some kind of perception the next morning intentionally or unintentionally …
The dogs had missed a day, which is rare indeed. However, it had rained fast and with much prowess and ice, fog and danger, the day of the eve of the swoosh. So, I was eager to go to the forests for them and for myself in order to gain fresh air, exercise, inspiration, photography, prose poem ideas, and to meet with the unknown but present healing thing and movement that nature can provide.
I had no intention of looking for Chaga.
When I started out I had a lot of ice to go over but I stayed slow and steady and also walked on the sides of paths. I soon made my way up past winter chaparral and feral shrubs, along by where pines house the perimeter of labyrinthine ways, to the top ridgeway of a valley where there was no ice. I went along there looking down to the right and admiring the valley and its stories, the logs and fallen trees, the moss bright and dark green, the odd wild rabbit that darts out from nowhere and races across a ways and disappears once again like a vision, like a dream, like a phantom. The valley at once terrene, verdant, and snowy. The valley is a world unto its own …
Then I received a sudden and unmistakable inner message. It was that I would encounter Chaga. Hmmm, I mused. The whys and the wherefores were beyond me. I wasn’t looking. Besides, I had seen the places I was headed a thousand times, and many of those I had taken either close inspections or cursory glances around not only birches and silver birches but all trees in order to look at mushrooms and moss, wildflowers and birds, grey and red and brown and black squirrels, and a hundred natural artifacts besides.
Soon I saw a path that I didn’t know existed. It was between two other paths and its beginning was almost invisible. Yet, it was there. Something had drawn my eye to it and then something, perhaps that same something … curiosity, adventure, something metaphysical even?—had brought me along such. I went slow and was languid, placid, happily lazy and relaxed and lollygagging and loafing perhaps better than any other loafer or slacker in this history of the world. The area became misty, dense but not quite dangerous with fog and more trees, alluring like an exotic woman’s eyes or a horizon line at dusk. Then I looked up and saw it amidst a wind that had arrived from who knows where and rain that was just borne as if out of an astral dimension.
It was on a leaning birch. And on that tree was more. And after examining it and inwardly asking spirit and then thanking spirit for taking some with my bare hands, I moved on. I figured it was more than ethical harvesting because much and much was left in the tree. Suddenly I knew where more was, and it was there about fifty feet in the distance. Then more. It seemed this was not only a secret path that ran between two larger paths near the purlieu and perimeter of faraway land, but that it was a place with Chaga calling out from all around. Hmm. Odd. “Good” odd though. I put some in my pockets, pockets of dark blue ambulance pants. I remembered my old lady, a great and wonderful soul, but a householder nonetheless—she would probably sigh and say, More mushrooms, more rocks, more oddities. But she would allow me to keep it. She was a good mama. I paused several times and looked all ’round. Fresh air, birdsong, a poetical dampness and dreariness with several shades of grey that were, against logic and reason, not lurid or lonely at all but rather enchanting and alluring in their own right.
Soon I hopped down the path where it led out to a large field. It was like hopping out of a dream, waking, rising, going, coming to one’s senses.
But a dream it wasn’t, for the swooshing sound, and the hidden path and its Chaga, were real.
Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer and photographer. Recent work appears at Fiction International and CV2 The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing. Brian is the author of Chalk Lines (Fowl Pox Press, 2013).
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(Photo by author)