Eight years ago my sister moved away from suburban Toronto to outside-the-city on the Escarpment, she said, a bungalow with an outdoor swimming pool and land attached, come visit. So I did.
I arrived in early March. It was a long drive from the airport. After the daily tube crush, the smog infested streets, the office busyness it was good to get away, breath fresh country air. Around about where she lived were farms where they the grew crops: soybean and corn. The view from the car was flat and white, it had snowed the night before. Their land, their hundred acres was mostly rented out farmland, but including a strip of woodland, 20 acres, right by the house. It wasn’t much; their neighbour called it the bush or scrubland. For me a backyard was a garden, this scrubland, this wood was a forest.
I woke early the following morning, put on a warm coat and wellingtons and went out, out of the house, across the snow covered lawn and into the wood. Without pause plunging into this black and white world. Picking up a fallen branch to help me in my trek through the thick snow. The trees were tall and slender for the most part. Against the white of sky and ground they appeared like a mass of dark lines. Branches still had their share of snow. It was a simplified world, silent but for the crunch, crunch of my footsteps. Every step a negotiation, uncertain, yet exhilarating, demanding – unlike the tense jostle along platform or pavement amongst soot and sweat. I kept on going and soon the house was no longer visible. Lost in the woods. Suddenly there was light, a large circular clearing. There was glare, the snow reflecting the sky. I paused, then stomped into the space. Half way across my leg broke through ice into – water. Struggling to get out I fell and slid on the ground. Lying on my back face up, breathing hard. The sky had now cleared, to a brilliant blue. It was just me and the birds and the stillness and the snow. I lay there and began to laugh. Should I get up?
I walked all the way to the end of the wood, where the field began, then back to the house exhausted and hungry. A breakfast of freshly made blueberry pancakes and maple syrup awaited. I mentioned the clearing I had come across. “That was Dagobah,” my nephew said. He had named it after the swampy planet in Star Wars. Where Yoda came from, where he trained Luke to use the Force. Why Dagobah? “You have to see it in the Summer,” he said.
The following year I returned, this time it was Summer. The wood was wet and green, unrecognisable from before,streams had appeared and paths had disappeared, into undergrowth. A green blanket of leaves filtering and blocking the light. Foliage congregated anywhere the sky was visible. Access was difficult mainly because of insects, filling the wood like a noxious gas, mosquitoes to midges, buzzing and biting. I would spray repellent and cover-up; any bare skin was soon bitten. I had splodges of itchy red but was not deterred. The wood drew me. Dagobah was now totally overgrown with vegetation and a spawning ground for mosquitoes. Early morning it looked like its namesake, the swamp planet, with layers of vapour floating above the grey-green foliage, the surrounding trees still in gloom. The sun rose and the light hardened, was the morning mist imagined ?
I came another year, in September. After a dry summer there were not so many insects. The reds and oranges of the dying leaves were just appearing. The wood was now easier to traverse. I would walk out every morning, sometimes take a book with me. Maybe read it sitting on a tree stump. I heard birdsong and an occasional deer in the distance but mostly it was just me, and the wind clattering the topmost branches of trees. A silent vulture crossed the sky. I paused and shrunk a little as it’s shadow traversed the ground at speed, seeking prey for its master above.
One evening we returned late to the house. I saw something glowing at the beyond the lawn. A childhood memory came to me – Jugnu. I followed the moving glow into the wood, into the dark, keeping to the path. Going further in, my eyes began to discern between the differing blackness’s. I reached the edge of a clearing. There were many hundreds of fireflies – a sea of glowing lights, shifting, blinking off and on.This was still Dagobah, now reflecting the stars blazing in the night sky above. Looking up, stars and more stars and darkness. Yet, in time the patches of darkness would reveal further, farther away. Time and distance related! There was no end to them. There was no end unless you stopped looking.