Ghostlight

October 31, 2016

The way to the abbey ruins snips cleanly through Autumn-woven woods, but like any Mädchen alone in the forest, I dally. I study the artistry of the weaver. Even Arachne could not have woven gossamer as lustrous as these woods. The weft is dyed in noble fir, striped on the bias with saffron threads of spruce. From the east, the weaver interlaces finely carded sunbeams, combed to whitesilken strands. Like fey melodies woven through harp strings, the lacelight twines through the trees. Unfurled over hill and hollow, this is the fabric of the Schwarzwald.

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A beguiling warmth promenades along these sun-stroked southern slopes. One of Summer’s squires gone rogue now haunts this forest path, a path paved in stolen August gold. He invites me to stay a summerswhile in this purloined clime. I’ll just sit a moment, I think, but he whisks a midsummer breeze from the trees, wrapping me in inertia. I escape only when he nets a pair of grey-hair hikers, who take my place in summery captivity.

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From a ridge afire with October’s torches—oak, beech, spruce—I look out over a scattered handful of farmhouses. How perilously close I lean toward the edge of Nowhere. Nameless lanes terrace this ridge, luring me deeper into a shadowland unmapped, unnumbered, slipping out of language and into sepia memories. The fleeting sun has already forgotten this unplace. As Autumn goes up in flames, sunlight like smoke ghosts over the hills, dusting the ridges in silver ash, skimming valley chimneys, yet leaving the farmsteads buried in the soot of shadows.

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Ruins are more sacred than any marble-souled basilica. In 1804, just months after state-secularization hounded the monks from Allerheiligen Abbey, a blade of summer lightning slashed through the chapel. In flames of June vengeance, the stones of Allerheiligen collapsed like towers of ash. Two centuries later, the ruins still hold vigil: the arched windows are shell-shocked eyes, walls streaked with charred tear-tracks.

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This stone survivor is a patron saint of strength. Quickened by lightning, forged in fire, its soul stands naked under the October sky. With wrens for a choir and wind for a prayer, the ruins welcome me to holy mass. In this forest church, on All Hallows’ Eve, I greet my dead. They walk with me down the aisle, through a window, and into the ghostlight of a dying afternoon, as October’s lantern burns down its final flickering hours.

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