I spent the weekend leading a playshop in a wonderful octagonal meeting house amidst blueberry gardens in Ashton, Maryland. Of course, the berries were not on the bushes in mid-January. The absence of blueberries inspired me to recount an incident that took place in high summer on the other side of the continent, when the berries were ripe and full at Mosswood Hollow, the magical retreat center where I lead some of my longer adventures in Active Dreaming.
During our lunch break that August day, I ranged with delight from bush to bush, grazing on red huckleberries and fat juicy blackberries and salmonberries and wild raspberries, always coming back to the perfect blueberries. As I was picking and munching, a stranger's voice carried across the bushes. It was slow and sweet, dropping the syllables like honey from a pot. "I see you like the berries."
I had to stand on tiptoe and tilt my head to one side before I could see the speaker. I found a man with honey-colored hair and a soft honey-colored beard. His shirt was also the color of honey, and on it he wore the figure of a bear, hanging from a thong.
"I do like the berries, very much."
"Which ones have you had?"
I rattled off the list.
"Have you tried the salal berries?"
I had not yet tasted these, and was interested, because I had heard that salal was a staple for the first peoples of the Pacific Northwest and for early settlers.
The honey-colored man offered to show me where the salal berries were growing. He led me along a track beside the deep evergreen forest, and pointed out the purplish berries. I tried a couple and found the taste somewhat bland and woody. I turned to thank my guide and found he was gone. The moment before, he had been as near to me as my shadow. I looked between the red cedars, to see if he had gone into the woods. Surely he could not have gone more than a few paces. He had vanished out of the sunlit day as if he had never been there.
I went back to the house and described my guide to the owners of Mosswood Hollow. They disclained any knowledge of the man I had met on their land.
Reflecting on this, as I gobbled a few more blueberries, I remembered the native stories of animals that can appear as humans, and humans who turn into animals. If a bear wanted to show himself as a human, maybe it would be like this, as a honey-colored man with a great love of berries.
Near the end of our story-swapping last weekend, an Irishman with a dry sense of humor and a poet in his soul clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Great crack."
"Are you accusing me of being a drug dealer?"
"Not crack," he laughed. "C-R-A-I-C. It means you tell a fine story. Grand entertainment."
Craic Dealer. I see you can buy a T-shirt with that inscription in Irish pubs. I've been called worse. Craic addict is another T-shirt choice. Well, craic addiction can be no more dangerous than bibliophilia, and I'll be happy to supply the necessary even when that requires me to talk the stars out of the sky.