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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Enchanted Places

Have you ever been to an enchanted place? I’m not talking about some place that was designed to replicate someone’s fantasy, in fact nothing designed by anyone other than nature. There are a few times in my life when I found myself in what I can only describe as an enchanted place—once in an old-growth forest, another in the midst of the Everglades, and on a meadow in County Cork off old Kinsale Head.

What makes a place enchanted? It isn’t magic, but a solemnity that is pervasive—a sense that if not sacred, that place is inhabited by something beyond human understanding. It isn’t just silence—in fact the Everglades were noisy with the sounds of all manner of creatures. It isn’t that such places are remote, I’ve been to many locations far from human habitation that were perfectly mundane. There is a hard to pin down quality to enchanted locations, that’s the enchantment. Now you may think I am romanticizing but let me assure you I’m not.

The night I spent in the Everglades, alone, on a wood platform a few feet above the swamp was disturbing, at times scary, and certainly not romantic in any way. I had decided to spend a night there as part of a vision quest. I was writing a script for a documentary that talked about vision quests and I thought—with some misgiving—that I should experience one for real if I was going to write about it. I did not have a vision per se, but something not of this world was on that platform with me at one point in the night. I did not see it—although I could see lots of animal eyes glowing in the dark and hear their noises. To this day I cannot say what it was I felt—but I knew that I had been touched by a force, call it a spirit perhaps, and I can to this day recall that night with total clarity.

Hiking by myself in the forest, three days into a week-long camping trip I came on a glade of immensely tall pines, perhaps eighty to 100 feet tall. Clearly these trees were old and untouched by storms or man. Nearby I found a bunch of flowering lilac and investigating it further came upon the ruins of a house—the stone foundation outlines still intact although all else had long decayed. It was very far from any place where men had lived--deep in the woods and it showed no signs of having been visited in a very long time. I decided to camp there and passed a quiet evening, sleeping well until dawn awakened me. In the chilly morning I went about making my meager breakfast and sat on a rotted tree stump drinking my coffee when quite suddenly all sound ceased and a white deer walked into my camp. I’ve seen a lot of wildlife on my hikes, I have even seen albino deer on two other occasions since, but this was different. The deer showed no signs of fear, but rather an intense curiosity and I had the distinct feeling I was being appraised. I’m sure that those impressions were my imagination, but their memory remains with me all these years later—how quietly and casually that deer stood just an arm's distance away watching, silently watching. After a while it left, as quickly and quietly as it had appeared and the sounds of the forest resumed.

Ireland, at least Ireland in the mid 70’s was a place you could easily imagine was haunted by spirits. I was on my honeymoon, driving at a leisurely place through County Cork—which is about as fast as one could drive the roads in those days and we decided to spend the night in a B&B in Kinsale. We set off the next day to explore the surrounding countryside and the ruins of an old British Remand prison. We were sparing of our resources, so lunch was a loaf of freshly baked bread, some local cheese and two bottles of stout. We found a spot on a bluff with a beautiful view of the sea and after lunch lay down in the meadow and napped. When we awakened, some mist had rolled in –wisps broken by shafts of sunlight here and there and out at sea we were surprised to see a magnificent steamship with four stacks belching smoke as it made its passage.

Back at the B&B that evening over a glass of whiskey we discussed our day with an older couple who shared our dining table. We talked about the prison ruins, the weather, the impossible green of the meadows and how the mist and the shafts of sunlight breaking through had lent a magical quality to the day. Almost as an afterthought I mentioned seeing the steamship. The gentleman grew quiet. He asked us a few questions and was particularly interested in the fact that the ship had four smokestacks. He had served in the British navy during the war he told us and seemed confident that we had misperceived what we saw as there were no longer four stack coal burning steamships at sea.

We thought nothing further of our conversation that night but at breakfast the next morning our new friend brought along a book and opened it to a picture of the ship we had seen. The caption read: "The RMS Lusitania, sunk by a German submarine in sight of land off old Kinsale head". Had I been alone, I might have doubted myself and have since wondered what we saw. I might have put it down to the pint of stout at lunch and left it at that—but we both saw what we saw, though neither of us had thought anything of it until that morning. Neither of us had known what the Lusitania looked like or that it had been sunk sixty years earlier in sight of the spot where we had our lunch until the moment our companion shared the story with us.

Make of these experiences what you will—I make no claims and have no explanations. But I am convinced that there are places that are enchanted; for good or evil, who knows? This quote from James K. A Smith sums it up best for me: “Sealed off from enchantment, the modern buffered self is also sealed off from significance, left to ruminate in a stew of its own ennui.” What does enchantment convey? You be the judge.

And that is it for me for the next few weeks. I am on pause while on a journey to find what I hope is another enchanted place. I hope you find yours.

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