Asters: Lamps for the Dark Queen

Lamps for the Dark Queen

pastel on board, 8 x 10″

From my journal,
13 October 2020

It’s warm, damp, and sunny, though the angle of light and the high breeze make it clear that it is indeed Autumn after all.

The trail is a scatter of leaves, but always, in this wet river-ground, the sycamores rule, queens of the bottomlands, their massive leaves only just beginning to fall, the stiff peridot velvet of their veins now within my reach. I admire the leaves every year, take a few inside, where they dry and curl to brittleness. 

The ironwoods are a small tree, and carry the sycamore’s skirts, but are flush with their own color––a glowing, bright rust of red and orange here, a dapple of yellow and lime there. Though small, the ironwood has a lean-muscled trunk that expresses her intent.

There have been beavers about for many seasons here, and I always fear for the ironwoods, but the industrious beavers rarely chisel away at them––they seem to understand the futility of iron striking iron (their teeth are orange because of an iron-rich enamel). It appears they prefer the the softer woods of the buckeye, which also grows in profusion in these river bottomlands, but have also already gone to bed, having dropped their slim crop of nuts and shed their leaves first. Early to bed, early to rise––come spring they will be among the first to awaken, unfurling their compound leaves like umbrellas. Perhaps next year spring will be kinder, and come Autumn, this trail will be a treasure trove of gleaming buckeyes, a beautiful, if potentially toxic, harvest.

It is true enough––soon the forest will be empty, and call us to a similar state. We will be down to the architecture of things––bones of sycamores will gleam in the golden frisk of the days’ edges, and the ironwoods will become a landscape unto themselves when the low angle of light dressies the ripples of their muscle in a moss-freckled chiaroscuro. The short days will call us to be deeply purposeful in our work, and the night will be long for dreaming.  

And here are the asters, at the end of their season as well. Every Autumn I think––I must draw you, darling Asters––seeing in my mind’s eye the profusion of flowers, as perhaps van Gogh would have honored them, the rays of lilac amid a background that trades green for sepia and gray.

But when it comes down to it, I feel the asters are the heralds for the Queen of the Night. Blooming near the equinox, until frost,  they hail her forth from the caves and shadows and deep water pools where she has slept, waiting for her time to return to the land.

She is an Otherworld Queen. Her feet step soft upon the earth, and all the roots of things begin to dream their healing. Even in ourselves. But we must be still, and quiet, and feel for her presence with our skin.

And so it is not a profusion of lilac rays that spreads across the surface of my drawing, but a web of roots, candles of green moss, curls of sycamore leaves, and aster-lamps, lighting her way, across the land, across the rivers, across our skin. The dark Queen comes, and fear her you might, but her bag has all the dreams of things, and what she weaves for you is the deepest medicine. 

Cut some asters, bring them inside. Welcome her in. 

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