When I shook off religion in favor of science, I did my best to do away with magical thinking altogether. I failed. Something innate in me has always been intrigued by the cryptic. In my early years I crouched beside the humble stream on my grandmother’s property and willed the esoteric to make itself known to me. To me, magic seemed so inevitably intertwined with the soft pad of moss upon the stones, the tiny swirling pools of run-off still carrying the chill of snow.
Little animals hid among the alder and it seemed natural to me that little creeping beings with human faces should be there too. Atheist Douglas Adams famously posed the question, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” The rhetoric in this is valid; I can read about the universe and feel no need to attribute any of its grandeur to god, and yet… small spaces awaken my imagination and I want to believe in magic like I did as a child.
My great-grandfather was a mechanic who left behind a large shop of well-loved tools and a drive ramp of rusted sheets of metal and boards gray with decades of weathering. The second car I ever drove was his 1940s jeep with a window shot out. In the winter of 2007 I jumped in it with my tall, introspective uncle and he taught me to drive it so we could haul split logs into my grandmother’s languishing woodshed. I didn’t inherit the shrewd mechanical mind of my uncle or grandfather. Instead I was somehow born with a mind for art and all things beautiful, with an imagination far more developed than my common sense has ever been. I love logic and feel something akin to reverence when I read about the natural world and the way that chemistry and math make everything the way they are, yet there’s a piece of me that will always look for fairies among the weeds.
That drive ramp was overgrown and I would squat on it watching Clouded sulphur butterflies, and the way the bluebells and chicory looked in their nonchalant dance against the tawny rusted panels made my heart turn. It was a kind of beautiful that felt like pain, that moment so imprinted in me that it feels like an eternity even today, with a magic in the grass and gravel and in the way the earth smelled like pine and soil and far-off horses.
In the summer chipmunks would make nests among the splintered pine logs in the wood shed and they’d whisk their tails through the loose chinks and I could see in my mind creatures not so obvious, fairies and woodland gnomes and even leprechauns- yes, leprechauns in Montana- because the imagination knows no bounds. I don’t need to see fairies in my garden, but I want to, because imagining makes me feel alive.