My First Meeting With Ghosts
Shadows: More Subtantial Than Ghosts
What's It Like To Meet With Ghosts?
Have you ever met a ghost or ghosts? If you have, I think you'll agree that it's an experience that sticks with you as surely as any tatoo.
I had my first convincing, if unclear meeting with ghosts when I was seventeen and growing up in Upstate New York.
My best friend, Denny, and I spent summer days riding horses on his small farm, hanging out and generally ignoring the chores we'd agreed to perform in exchange for being allowed to ride.
It was a simpler America, then, a cliché, I know, but a fair description of a time without the universality of the Internet, hundreds of televisions stations and when important social initiatives like the Women's Movement, Civil Rights and antiwar activism were just beginning.
We were freer with our personal intuitions and beliefs and open to many more natural things than we are now.
As a culture, we're inclined to see ourselves as more sophisticated now, but in many ways, the progress has been away from the natural connections and associations that once made us feel whole with nature – every aspect of nature, including those we prefer to ignore now, as we strain to create distance between us and other animals and our natural history.
So, I'm starting to write about my experiences with ghosts or spirits as a personal exercise is keeping the subject active. Here is the story of the first time I really became aware of spirits or whatever they were.
I had a meeting with ghosts so startling it still makes me tingle with fear, decades later. Funny thing is, I don't understand why I felt afraid, then or now. Maybe I was getting too near a mystery that's remained unresolved throughout human history.
Denny and I were active, outdoors types. We loved to hike, ride horses, play baseball and, of course, try to meet girls. In a life like that, insomnia is a foreign word. Sleep comes in sweet layers of relaxation and peace.
Another thing we enjoyed doing was hauling sleeping bags out into the woods to sleep under the trees on summer nights. The idea that sleep might mean folding our hectic consciousnesses quietly into a spirit-based reality was not something I'd heard of. We went to sleep. We woke up refreshed. It just happened naturally.
The woods on Denny's farm were younger, maybe the most recent incarnation of a previously burned out grove, the trees tall and narrow, maybe thirty years old. We'd stretch out under the green canopy before it was fully dark, smoking Winstons and talking, a pastime that was still popular then. We talked about school, girls, what we hoped to do with our lives, girls again, and the struggles of trying to fit in.
About fifty feet away was an open field where we used to race the two horses Denny's father adopted. One was a beautiful palomino, the other a retired trotter guaranteed to bless any rider with saddle sores.
After dark finally settled in and as our talk diminished, the rocks began flying in.
At least, we took them to be rocks. At first, we thought someone was pulling a prank, but anyone would have gotten a sore arm or bored eventually. The steady deluge of rocks coming down through the trees and bouncing on the forest floor never lessened.
As they seemed to be penetrating the canopy from the direction of the open field where we rode our horses, there was always the question of how the mysterious thrower found so many rocks.
Rocks smashing down through trees will keep you awake, if only in fear of being hit, but the funny thing was, Denny and I simply accepted it as a harmless, supernatural annoyance after awhile.
So, there were ghosts throwing rocks. They were harmless. Let them be.
Of course, we thought it was a ghost or ghosts, some haunting, because no other entity would have been so persistent in a useless pursuit.
Did they or it want us to leave? At seventeen, we weren't about to be intimidated by ghosts with no more power than the ability to through rock after rock in our direction.
Or maybe it had nothing to do with us. Maybe some spirit was consigned in purgatory to throw rock after rock, all night long, into eternity. Who could know about such things anyway?
Our philosophical resolve was that they would eventually stop and we would get some sleep.
Starting Out Through The Woods
Then, it began to rain.
First, the gentle rhythm of drops set off a lively patter across the forest. I love rain, and this was pleasant to listen to. Eventually, however, the water found it's way through trees and branches and began to dampen the ground around us.
"Maybe it'll stop," Denny suggested, half-asleep.
At least, it had ended the rock throwing. But, the rain continued, gradually saturating everything.
Reluctantly, we bunched together our bags, holding them against our chests without trying to roll them up in the dark and began walking in the pitch dark back toward the house, maybe two-hundred yards away.
That's when it happened. The forest came alive with spirits. We had our meeting with ghosts.
The darkness increased as ghosts filled the air around us. It was eerie and disorienting because we hadn't a clue about what was happening. You could just feel something needy, not in the way Hollywood portrays selfish creatures out to overwhelm us, but more eager, almost clingy.
They hovered everywhere around us, not vibrating really, but charged in a foggy sort of essence. I had a feeling that we understood each other, but not rationally. The ghosts were there in a way that has no comparable explanation in daily life. We and they used senses we usually leave turned off, at least when awake.
I realize how inadequate that description is, but there is a word for it – ineffable – and it fits.
We kept walking blindly through the trees until we reached a clearing, and the ghosts were gone.
Country boys, we were closer to nature then, and although we considered the experience unique, we didn't consider it scary in the aftermath or anything to keep us out of the woods in the future.
We also didn't know what to make of it ourselves or of any adults with whom we could confide for guidance. Just as well, I suppose.
What stuck with me was the neediness. In our earlier histories, human cultures were much closer to birth and death as well as what may rest between in both directions. Confronted by spirits now, we are like strangers in a foreign country or we simply make ourselves blind. And maybe that explains the neediness. Maybe, as the result of our cultural advancement, we've deprived them of the connections we've shunned as primitive or animalistic.
I can't help wondering now if that thrower is still out there, rattling a more mature woods, night after night.
Maybe the ghosts in the woods are hoping for a return visit, living people to touch in their own unique way, with their own unique needs. I hope not. They're aren't so many ragged, imaginative boys in sleeping bags out there anymore.
The loneliness must be immense.
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