In the village of Blaszka, as in every other place, even in fairy tales, there was an oldest son, and a youngest son, a rich sister and a poor sister, the clever, the wise, the wicked and naive, a constellation of people, seemingly motionless, a river of stars in the midnight sky. But go closer and the stars are exploding suns that come in to being and die, and in between give life to all manner of things. Look and you’ll see the planets with their seas rising and falling under the pull of the circling moons. Even closer, you’ll see the trees of the forest and mushrooms sprouting in the dark places. Watch how the mushroom pickers, when they find one that’s wormy, cut it into pieces which they scatter on the ground to spread the spores, so new mushrooms will grow.
Mushrooms are the fruit of the fungus. Below ground are cell-wide threads that take sugars from the roots of trees, giving in exchange water and minerals. Because the roots are hard and thick, they would have trouble getting what they need without these threads, this network of life blood running through the ground connecting all the trees, making of the woods a single, living thing. So make yourself a bowl of mushroom soup, and as you lift the spoon to your lips, remember that this, too, is the river midnight, and as you drink, know that Hanna-Leah made this exact same soup for Hershel, once upon a time. The River Midnight, by Lilian Nattel
These beautiful passages are the closing paragraphs of The River Midnight, and I read them over several times this morning before I could set the book aside. They speak to me of the legacy and continuity of people and place, an idea that is near to my heart and one I find myself exploring time and again in my own writing and in the deepest desires of my soul.
Perhaps it’s because of the singularity in my family – after all, I’m an only child who is the daughter, wife, and mother of more only children. We are a small group of “ones,” a few tiny stars in the constellation of people that make up this wide and wonderful world. We cling tightly to one another, yet reach out with tentative, hopeful fingers into the “network of life blood running through the ground…” seeking that constellation where we might find the perfect place to plunge our solitary roots.
In the river of my life are Irish farmers and Jewish printers, Armenian musicians, and German bakers. Their essence flows onward in me, in music and words, in love of animals and growing things. So that when I “lift the spoon to my lips” or place my fingers on the keys or revel in the green spikes of lilies poking through the soil, they are with me, the long and strong tendrils of their roots curling around my soul.
Once again, in the secret realm of a story I discovered a profound truth, a message sweet and true. The magic of words illuminates wondrous mythical connections that survive all eternity and give me hope for meaning and new life.
In 100 years, a woman will play Chopin on the piano and feel my heart in her hands, will open the book I wrote and recognize herself within the pages. And The River Midnight will flow on.