What the Stars Showed Me

Certainly not resigned, I have taken a pause on Submission.

For those following the Archives, you may recall that I’ve come to lovingly regard the process of sending my writing to various publications as “Submission.”  Turning the noun into a verb helps me surrender to the whole experience – acceptance and rejection alike.

These past weeks, creative juices have been flowing in the direction of packing boxes for my upcoming move, with little time to keep up with the Archives here, let alone submit any work elsewhere.

Ever-keen to take the cue of cosmic winks, however, I’m paying attention when the editor of an anthology requests I submit a piece or two. There are no guarantees one of my works would be chosen but she has urged me to at least make an offering, specifically referencing a short, non-fiction story called “What the Stars Showed Me”.

With minimal time to make revisions or even second guess myself, I’m readying to print, seal and stamp.  In my present flurry, there’s no room to pin hopes or expectations.  Hence the liberating freedom of Submission.

Taking it one step further and throwing all hesitation by the wayside, I’m posting an excerpt from the piece about my night camping near remote hot springs, right here.

“The moment I woke up in my hospital room, I knew I was not going to Kauai. With complete clarity, I decided that I was bound for British Columbia. I had been to BC once before and I knew one man about my age in Victoria. He and I had met in a parking lot at the house of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island that past summer. We’d spent a few days traveling with friends, exchanged a couple of letters, and he’d offered me a place to stay if I came to town.

Three weeks post-op, I am healing a fresh scar and making my way to Canada. And in this moment, I am deep in the night, freezing my bones in the Olympic rainforest, dreaming of cats while psychedelic forest trippers howl. I cannot stay in my tent. I have to make a move.

Survival instincts determine that I will try the first lower pool, with hopes that it will be empty and the water will warm me. As I walk with my flashlight through the dark, I can still see the glow of lights through the trees at the upper pool. Illustrations from my childhood edition of Rumpelstiltskin taunt me.

It was a gnome-like trickster that helped a maiden spin straw into gold.  In exchange for revealing one of life’s great secrets, he insisted she give him her first-born child if she could not guess his name. Illustrator, Edward Gorey’s spooky sketch showed a scene in the night when the maiden’s servant spied upon Rumpelstiltskin dancing round a fire in ghoulish delight. He was celebrating early victory at having stumped the maiden. That child would be his because no one knew his name was Rumpelstiltskin! The flame and shadows, the trickery, the trollish stature of the creature with the strange name who wanted babies as his prize – the darkness of the tale had made an imprint.  

Now, deep in the shadowed forest, real wild beings hoot in twitching light up on the hillside. As I cross the bridge, my flashlight begins to flicker and fade. There is the smell of sulfur and moist air. I arrive at the first pool with enough light to see that no one is here. The water is shallow with some protruding rocks, but it is quiet and I quickly strip down to immerse myself. The temperature is tepid. Not the steaming hot of the upper pool, but it’s enough to match my body temperature and quell the chill.

Though the water is not deep, I am able to submerge my whole body and find a spot among the rocks where I can stretch out. Using a boulder as a pillow, I rest my head back and look up at the night sky. A sparkling of stars dazzle the thick black backdrop. So many white studded twinkles splay before me – all magic seems possible.  

My ears are perked for sounds from the howlers, but all is now remarkably quiet. Not in an eerie way. There is a genuine calm. It is so still here in the trees I almost wonder if I was dreaming the wild ones, just like the kittens. The warm water envelopes me and I am held by the stillness of the trees and the rock beneath my head. I float in awe at the quiet of the night. See a shooting star and make a wish – the same one that I have wished so many times before. May I please one day have a child.

At some point I drift off into a subtle sleep. I don’t know how long I rest there but it is still thick in the night when a light misting begins and wakes me. A new, more immediate wish comes instantly to mind:  Please, no rain!  And just as soon as the silent plea arises, another shooting star arches through the sky and I pin all hopes upon that celestial body.

As if I am actually orchestrating with the elements, the misting immediately ceases and rain never does appear. I relax in the water, no thoughts of getting pruned, just grateful for the rock beneath my head. I acknowledge the strength of my body that has carried a 35-pound pack to this camp spot only weeks after major surgery. I am thankful for the one ovary that remains within my womb, still housing hope for creation yet to come. I am grateful for the quiet of the forest. I am happy for the comfort of my earthen pool.

Nestled in soft silt and stone, I watch the night slowly turn from black to dusky purple. Nearby roots and trunks reveal new dimensions in early light. The landscape that has held me through the night is now unveiling. Stars fade from my view.

The forest stirs. Animals rustle and the trees arch and stretch in the beginning warmth of morning. Exiting my liquid haven, I now can see it is really not much more than a glorified puddle, even more shallow and small than I had realized. Yet within those simple elements had swirled the golden mystery. Transformation of cold to warmth. Fear to ease. Dark to light. “

Excerpt from “What the Stars Showed Me” by Jessica Dofflemyer

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