Guest post by C Lee Tressel, blogger on Fifty Rows Up [http://cleetressel.com]
I love this time of year.
Early September brings back to school, cooler nights, candy corn, and football. This year, it has also brought a barrage of acorns onto the roof of my new old house. I jumped at the first few loud hits, but now I’m used to it. I’m waiting for the day one thunks me square on the head.
In addition to falling nuts and the NFL, something else important is on my mind: druids.
Besides the half hour I spent at Stonehenge twelve years ago, I can’t say I’ve thought much about druids. Juilene Osborne-McKnight’s novel, I Am of Irelaunde, has changed that.
If you had asked me to define a druid before I read the book, I would have given you a roundabout description: A druid was a priest-like person who performed pagan rituals – probably in robes, probably outdoors – and lived in the UK, long before the UK became the UK. Having read the novel and having been swept up in the reimagined story of Patrick (that’s Saint Patrick, to you), now I will tell you that though I wasn’t completely off, there is much more we can learn from druids.
Druids have often gotten a bad rap for being shady (in the sense of both “shrouded” and “shifty”) practitioners of the dark arts. The way Osborne-McKnights druids are portrayed is much more marvelous and also far more familiar. The druids in this story have some magical healing capabilities and finely honed intuition, but they are also powerfully in tune with nature. Man’s relationship to nature is indeed the seat of their “magic.” Consider this: One word predating the Celtic language that might have been a root for the term “druid,” means “oak-knower.”
As someone living with a whole world of modern conveniences, I could stand to know much more about oaks, like the one dropping acorns on my house. I could also stand to know more about what grows when and how best, what I can do to be more aware of the seasons and their rhythms, and why I interact (or don’t) with nature in the ways I do.
What I also came to know about the druids in the story is the way they passed knowledge to each other. The written word wasn’t their medium, but stories were. Much of Osborne-McKnight’s novel is comprised of stories told within the larger story. The layering is wonderful, and it makes me want to gather some friends, pour the mead, and trade the best yarns from our family histories.
I’ll be honest: I felt some resistance to reading this book. I chose to read it for this blog project because it has sat in my collection, unread, for six years. My dad had asked me to read it and report back those many moons ago, and I have always felt badly that I did not complete the quest. However, one of the themes in the book is hearing a story when you’re ready to hear it. That is certainly the case for this book. The poet-warrior (!) who tells most of the stories in the book would say my timing was exactly right.
Another bit of subtext suggests that stories can come to us from unexpected sources. In this case, the book came from my dad. He is not a particularly odd source, but he received the book from the author, who sent him the book acknowledging a kindness that he had paid to her. Years before, my dad wrote a letter in praise of a column the author had written about the Cleveland Browns when she was a sportswriter. Lo and behold! I rediscovered the book within a month of moving to Cleveland, in the year I started my own sports writing venture.
Sometimes, it seems, the right story just falls from the sky, just the right time, and not unlike a big, juicy acorn – destined to hit you right where it counts.