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And the Fires Will Burn

THE LINE WOUND THROUGH the trees like a fuse, and if I craned my neck, I could see where we were headed. As each coat and scarf faded past the entrance, the glow seemed to get brighter. Even now the spirits were visible in random, bobbing procession against the tree line. It was unsettling, all these people, me in the middle, all waiting at dusk. It was good, though. It was good I was here. After all that had happened. It needed to be opened. It would be better after that.

It was another Halloween and, true to the season, the haunting BareBones Halloween performance was about to begin. Set at the Hidden Falls north entrance, this place already ripe with magic for me. (I saw a fairy in the water there back in ’95 when I moved here. No lie. But that’s another story.) The faces of spirits glow above and around you in dark, positive magic. Shadows made flesh skitter from the dark. Fires flash, then sleep. Binding it all, a live soundtrack performed just out of sight by jerking silhouettes in love with sound.

As I rounded the last curve in the queue, it was starting—stick spiders three people tall, faceless faces floating in the light of smoke. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I entered.

I had been here before, two years ago now. That year my brother and I laid our father to rest after a long battle with life’s hardest hits. How he held on as long as he did is the only mystery about his death. There was love and hate and fear and, later, hope.

So two years later, and here I was again, in both ways. They say losing a father is hard, but that no loss compares to that of a mother, crone, nurturer, the one who brings you into this world. The theme this year seemed spot on, “And the Fires Will Burn.” Change, the cycles of loss and hope, the resilience we become to keep it all moving.

I took the Haunted Path down the site, stopping once to watch glowing pods wrestle with the dying and the birth of what comes next. I saw my mother, swaddled like an infant. She was always cold toward the end, her cocoon a sky blue of one hundred percent cotton. I took a seat on the cold ground in what felt like a primal congregation. I’ll admit I almost didn’t want it to start because that would make it real.

Soon the Fates took stage, weaving their everything webs, the victories and losses of each of us here flowing along, not one thing more important than another. My father was in there making his rounds. And this year my mother would take her place in that infinite procession. Performers arrived and left like breath, plant life and raging water showing us the power of resilience. After a lesson on the baggage we burden ourselves down with, it was all burned clean in a spectacular dirge and dance making way for new growth.

My mother died February 24 in a room where I slept, and I realized I was here to use the thin veil between worlds to share some space, one last time. It was the Calling of the Names, where each and all are invited to speak a name of one now passed. No more waiting. I called her name strong and loud toward the stars, into the twirling fires of dancing wraiths:

Annie June Gause

And as the sound joined others in the webs of past and future, I felt a pain and then peace. I watched as she and the others rose, evaporated into the late October sky, taking their proper place in the world inside us.

Story: MICHAEL K. GAUSE was born in Tennessee while The Beatles were still together. He visited Minnesota in 1995 and never went back. His writing can be found in print and online. His piece “The Sentinel” was published in Volume 2 of Saint Paul Almanac.


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