Forgotten Art: Jasper – Alina 1

A reply to: A letter from Alina


Greetings to the Lady of the Manor, Alina!

A delightful surprise to hear from you–it is, indeed!

You may not know this, but Liam has already told me a good deal about you, including the curse and your bravery in wanting to do what’s needed to remove it.

I take it that you haven’t yet endured that test? Or have you, and you’re now writing with the trial complete? If so, I trust that the curse has been removed and that you’re free. And if not, I’m wishing you all the best.

I’ll tell you: You and your family have given me much to think about.

Do you find that some things need to be thought about in a special corner of the mind?

That’s how I feel about the stories I’ve heard from Liam, and now, from you.


I’ll tell you some of me and my life, since you were so open about yours.

I have a special love of certain places. I suppose we all do.

Behind my niece’s home is an old orchard. We discovered it decades ago, when my brother first bought the house and property that my niece inherited.

We thought it was an abandoned orchard at first. And, indeed, we’ve never seen anyone tend it. But the lemon and cherry trees are well cared for. By whom? I have a feeling that your mother may know–or possibly Silvan.


I went there the other morning. You see, I’d stopped by the produce stall in the square near my home, but the vendor was all out of lemons. Limes, they had plenty of. And blood oranges.

But not a single lemon.


I harvested several from the old orchard. Most I kept for lemonade and tea, but one I planted in the garden.


Now, I know it sounds foolish to plant a whole lemon! Even a pip might not sprout! And even if it did, it could take decades to grow into a tree. And even then, citrus trees usually need to be grafted to produce quality fruit.


But I’ll tell you: I’m no longer one to place my faith in the practicalities of anything, not even horticulture.

You see, after writing to your step-father, my eyes have opened to magic. That a seed could grow: There’s not much more magical than that. So what’s to prevent these lemon pips from sprouting and growing into a shading tree with fruit-bearing branches?

And if nothing comes of it, no matter: I got my hands in the soil and felt a rush of hope, and that’s reward enough.

I’m glad to discover that you love to read.

Since I was a boy, books have formed a good portion of my life. I’m a retired literature professor.

I’m discovering many joys of retirement: One is, I’ve got time for other activities. Another is, I can stay up all night, if I want to. A third is, I can combine joy #1 with joy #2 and stay up all night doing something fun.


The night I planted the lemon, I stayed up and painted a mural. It’s beside the garden, near the public walkway that leads down to the waterfront.

I’m hoping passersby enjoy this scene of nature I painted here in the city.


Where do you find your courage, Alina?

That is something I’ve noticed in Liam, too: a deep abiding courage to face shady dangers and come out even stronger.


I can think of only a handful of times I’ve had to muster courage.

My wife and I both had to be brave during her last years on this planet. Her illness hit her hard, and there were nights when neither of us thought we’d make it through. But then grace would come: She would shine into a form of consciousness that I can only call presence: lit up from within, she was.

I’ll tell you a secret: I never thought I would see that type of bright presence again, after my wife left. I felt–this feels strange to write–that I’d been given a gift in her passing: the gift of witnessing a spirit lit up with conscious awareness.

I treasured that. I still do. It’s what I draw on whenever I find my emotions weigh me down or my thoughts get snagged and entrapped.

I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that was more rare than the magic of a lemon pip sprouting.

But the other day, I was babysitting my grandniece, and my nephew stopped by. The two began playing, and they became so caught up in their play that everything else dropped away, and there was that same grace.


Do you know that grace?

Is that where your courage comes from?

With grace like that–with consciousness in its purest form–I am guessing that the strongest curse stands not a chance.

My nephew came in from playing, and he was my same nephew as always, just as if he hadn’t been transformed into a light beam just the moment before.

“Most excellent tacos,” he said. “Could use more salsa, though.”

Then he launched into a fifteen minute dissertation on the history of salsa and the best types of tomatoes for it and the gradations of spiciness on the the Scoville scale.


When he left, while my grandniece slept on the couch, I thought about the quicksilver of awareness. It touches us–our minds flicker awake for an instant–and then, unless we’ve experienced lasting satori, we settle back into the mundane and our thoughts chatter with facts and opinions.


Ah, but that’s being a person!

And at least we have those moments–and they can sneak up on the least suspecting of us, when we’re listening to music, focused on a task, playing with a child.


Dear Alina, how much I’ve written! And none of it is hardly the normal stuff of a typical letter!

But I know enough of you and your step-father to know that typical isn’t what you seek in a pen pal correspondence, so I feel the liberty to share all my rambling thoughts with you, chasing them down the chattering brook.


If you haven’t endured what you must to remove that curse, then I want you to know that I’ve sent out scores of well-wishes on starlight, clouds, and ocean breezes.

And if you have, then know I send my gratitude, as well.

Be safe. Be well. You know already that you’ve been blessed.

Wishing you the best,


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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Liam 4

A reply to: A letter from Liam


Greetings Liam!

I received the most surprising letter the other day. It was from your step-daughter Alina!

Since she wrote, I am guessing that the danger is passed, that she’s returned to the living, and that the curse has been lifted.

I certainly hope so.

I worried for her, you, and your family.


Of course, worry is foolish. I know this!

But even still, when those we care for are in trouble, it’s hard to banish worry with a thought.


You mentioned that magic seemed to be rubbing off on me. I hadn’t thought of it in that way. I had thought that your letters and the power of your words were opening my eyes to the magic that was always around me–that everyday magic that we’re often too busy to notice. Or maybe it’s just that we don’t conceive that it could be here, in this world, in this moment, and so we don’t see it, we only feel it as an invisible buzz around us.

But maybe it is as you say, and, in addition to opening my eyes to everyday magic, your words open the channels between our worlds and magic enters in.

Could be.

I received a most interesting phone call the other day.


It was from my niece. Nothing unusual in that, right?

Except she had an appointment and she wanted to know if I could come babysit.

Now, I’ve volunteered to babysit my grandniece Jena many times. And now and then, Meadow will drop her off at my home while she spends a precious half-hour taking a walk or getting a cup of coffee.

But this day was different.

I’d be babysitting at Meadow and Jena’s home, and my niece would be gone all afternoon.

It may seem a small thing, but to me, it’s close to a miracle that Meadow has developed enough trust in her daughter’s safety that she’d leave her for an entire afternoon, even though she’s leaving her at her own home with her favorite (and only) uncle.


You see, Meadow’s been fretting about Jena’s past. Jena’s birth mother died giving birth, and, because Jena was born out-of-wedlock, she was shunned by most of the people there at the refugee camp. When Meadow learned of Jena’s past, she took it hard, worrying that trauma from those years might affect Jena’s present happiness.

I’ve been trying to convince Meadow that her little girl is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Taking this step of letting me watch her for an entire afternoon shows me that, sure enough, Meadow is beginning to trust in her daughter’s well-being.


I’m also smiling at the reason that Meadow needed a sitter for an afternoon. She’s considering volunteering at a shelter for women and children.

Now that’s a good thing! Meadow has so much to offer others, and she hasn’t always realized it, not because of lack of self-confidence, but due to the assumption that everyone had it as good as she did.

My niece and nephew were raised in privilege, and my brother and his wife did a good job in raising them to be good people. At the same time, they’ve lived in a bubble of good luck.

Jena and her tenuous first years at the refugee camp introduce hardship’s touch, and now both Meadow and her brother have begun to look for ways to make a difference for those suffering in this wide world.


I thought about this while babysitting that afternoon.

My thoughts mingled with the stories you told in your letter.


It would be so easy for those stories of loss and danger to weigh heavy and to weaken one’s faith in the goodness of life.


But look at you! Look at the wisdom, kindness, and generosity you carry! Look at the sacrifice each member of your family and clan are eager to make for another’s benefit.

Look at how Meadow, and even my nephew Norman, are now looking for ways to help others, to make even one life easier.


It’s one thing to be good in heart and good by nature.

It’s entirely different for hardship’s shadow to prompt us to put that goodness into action.


That’s when caring becomes compassion: goodness plus action.

So, yes. I would say that magic is indeed rubbing off on me and on my family.

Alchemy is magic, right? And when suffering and hardship transmute to trust and compassion, that is pure alchemy.


Thank you for encouraging Alina to write me! I look forward to getting to know her.

Wishing you health!

Your friend,


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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 6

A reply to: A letter from Dove


Dear Dove,

Are you still running almost entirely on momentum? I’m imagining your apartment with all the appliances fixed and refixed and fixed up again!

As for me, I’m finally, finally getting out of the house! I’ve found a drop-in daycare in Old Town which Jena really likes. They serve graham crackers there and they’ve got an entire shelf full of toy cats, so she fills her pockets with the graham crackers, and feeds each little toy kitten (really, sneaking the cracker into her own mouth!) and saying, “Meow-mew! Meow-meow!” She’s very funny.

So while she “feeds the cats,” I take a few hours for myself and paint plein air or visit my brother, who lives a few short blocks from the daycare, or go for a jog.

I find it inspiring that your children will choose their own names for everyday use as they grow older. I agree that it’s so important to have a name that reflects you!

I think I couldn’t choose a more fitting name for me than “Meadow.” I wonder how my parents did it. My mom says that she spent a lot of time hiking the meadows near our home when she was carrying me, and that I would always quiet down the moment she stepped onto the green fields, and that’s where my name came from. My family’s nickname for me is “Greenie” or “Little Green,” and I guess those are both fitting, too.


I think Jena might choose for herself the name Cat. She seems to love cats more than anything, and half the time, she is convinced she’s a kitten! She even purrs.


How are your babies? How is Maki?

Tell me all about your twins’ latest discoveries, and tell me all about your scientist discoveries, too!

The other day, my brother Norman mentioned that he was looking to hire some chemists. I don’t know why he would need them! I mean, I know that the energy company he runs is always doing R & D, but it’s a solar and wind energy company. What need do they have for chemists?


Norman replied that photovoltaic cells are made out of substances, and they always need chemists to help them improve upon the composition of the compounds, or something like that.

Anyway, he said that if I knew any scientists, I should let them know that Windenburg Wind and Sun is looking to hire–so, if you or your colleages want to transfer to beautiful windy, sunny Windenburg, you can find openings on the company website! And let me know if you or your friends are interested in applying, and I’ll pass on word to my brother so he can keep a special lookout for your applications.

As for me, I’m so glad to be not-really-employed. I mean, I’m painting daily, and doing a little writing each week on this folklore book I’ve been working on for ages, but mostly, my time is Jena-time.


We have more smiles by far these days than frowns.


Sometimes, if she’s gotten especially excited or if she’s been really busy learning new things, she will suddenly collapse, as if she’s run out of processing power!


But then I know that a little quiet time with a story and nap will fix her up again. I forget sometimes how much energy it takes to learn everything!

I love your mother’s story about the nine-armed fluffer bear! What an imagination your mom has!

Right now, Jena insists that I read or tell her only “true stories.” When I tell her folk or fairy tales full of magic, she gets fussy and sometimes even cries.

But when I read the counting book about groceries or the story about the little girl who bought blue shoes, she sighs contentedly.


I suppose that there is plenty of time for other-worldly magic later, and if, right now, she is busy processing this world that we live in, well, that’s a good thing to do.

Personally, I think this world is full of magic, even in a shopping list for the grocery store! Twelve onions… you can’t get much more magical than that!

Wishing you and your lovely family all the joy and happiness!

Much love,


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City Tales: My Lovely Landlord, 3


Evenings in the city brought nostalgia. With roughly 837,440 people living in approximately 47 square miles, it seemed strange to feel so alone. But after a day of painting and writing, CT often realized she’d spoken to no one. Surprisingly, when she stood on her balcony looking over the empty streets, no one in the apartment building across the way ever looked out at her, standing there. She felt invisible. Her neighbors in her small town always said hello.

Fortunately, her work drew her outside many nights. She had festivals to cover, new musicians to discover, and gallery openings to review.

Walking out of the Art Center, the night air felt bracing. And when she looked up, she was startled to notice that she could still see the stars. It was as if night imposed itself over the entire region. I am Night, more powerful than city lights. You cannot dampen my stars or the depths of my darkness.

And no matter how much noise the city let loose, Night somehow absorbed it all in the silence of its space.


Paper lanterns spread magic through the squares, and the dragon-river mural on the brick tenement seemed enchanted, moving as if it were real.

The reviews CT wrote became touched with this magic. “It’s as if you’re describing a foreign land,” her editor wrote to her in an email. “Why! Your review of the food stands in the Art District garnered 125,062 hits! The commission reports that booth sales skyrocketed!”

“It’s not supposed to be about commercialism,” CT wrote back.

“Yeah, keep believing that  :),” the editor wrote in his reply.


CT longed to bring a bit of enchantment into her apartment. She picked up gallons of casein paints and began a mural on the studio wall. The sweet scent of caseins relaxed her. She was so focused on her painting that she didn’t hear the knocking on her door.

Her landlord let himself in with his key.

“Anyone at home?” he called. “I am here to check the suspicious smell in the hallway that the neighbors reported!”

“Back here!” she called back.

“Ah!” Atharv cried. “This is magic! And it smells like milkshakes!”

She apologized. Was the scent of the paints that strong? And was it OK she was painting the wall without permission? And she was sorry she hadn’t heard him knock.

“Too many worries!” he replied. The scent of the paints was not a problem, and the mural added beauty to the apartment, and when one is creating a thing of beauty, one cannot be expected to answer the door at any random moment.

“You’re a kind man, Atharv,” CT said, and he rewarded her with a warm smile.


A few weeks later, he dropped by unannounced late at night.

“I was walking by, checking on the kestrel nests under the eaves of the building, and I thought to myself, ‘Let’s see how that magical mural is coming along on the wall of the studio of my favorite tenant!'”

She invited him in to see the finished work.

“This is magic!” He said. “What do you know about color properties and the ways that colors, when used with skill,  create an environment that can keep a person cheerful?”


She didn’t know much–only what she’d learned through experience and intuition.

He shared the color principles he’d learned from his grandmother in India, who held that each color carried a specific frequency that affected mood and health.

Talk of color led to talk of light. Talk of light led to talk of growing things. Talk of growing things led to talk of wilderness, and soon they found they’d talked through the night.

Atharv told of summers he’d spent as a child on his grandparents’ tea plantation in Darjeeling.

“One summer, a tiger had been seen in the jungle surrounding the plantation. The field hands worried, keeping pitchforks and machetes always nearby. I was a wild thing, spending all my free time in the jungle. One afternoon, I climbed down a vine and there, standing right beside me was the tiger. He looked in my eyes. I looked in his. He saw the light of my eyes. I saw the light of his. It was like that.”

Atharv looked into her eyes so that the light sparked from his irises to hers.


“That moment of connection,” Atharv said. When he got home he told his grandfather that he had met the tiger. “He’s nothing to fear!” Atharv had told his grandfather. That afternoon, his grandfather told the laborers that Krishna had come to Atharv in the jungle in the form of the tiger. They put away their pitchforks then. And the tiger harmed no one.

“But I got no peace!” Atharv said. “All the rest of that summer, people followed me everywhere I went! I was the boy who met the Holder of the Disk in the face of the tiger!”

Before the sun rose, the sky turned the color of a ripe plum. Atharv and CT walked out to the balcony, where morning felt cool and fresh.

“How long before this color changes?” Atharv asked, looking at the sky.

“Not long,” said CT. “An instant.” They watched silently. “An eternity.”

The sun rose.


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Shift 26: Return


It took me all day to walk home. The sun was just setting as I arrived in the meadow.


It’s the golden hour, and I love how Ted’s flowers light up as if they are filled with the essence of everything.


Ted was waiting for me inside.

“How was it?” he asked.

“It was…” I had no words. I started to say, it was like any day. But that wasn’t right or true. I started to say it felt amazing. But that sounded cliche.


He looked at me and smiled. “I can see how it was. It was a success.”

But I said, no. It really wasn’t. If it was meant to be something transformative, then I’d failed. It hadn’t worked. Because I felt the same as before. I felt strong, sure. And I felt good. But I had to admit that I was just a normal person.


He laughed. “It just hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “Give it time to do its work. And besides, who says that magic isn’t normal?”


I felt something pop when he said that.

This is normal.


I was living a miracle, and I always had been, and I was totally and completely changed, but it had happened so gradually and then so completely that I hadn’t even realized that it was happening.

“You may not know it,” Ted had said, “But you’re sparkling.”


I slept for a few days. It was weird because I didn’t feel wiped out. I felt really strong. I was just really, really tired.


When I got up, I was ravenous. Ted had a pot of beans on the stove and some bread on the table, and I ate three bowls and half the loaf.

Then I found him outside.

“How’d you sleep?” he asked.

“Pretty good!” I replied.

“Are you ready to harvest some herbs?” he asked.


We headed into the back country to some meadows where wild currants grow. Ted said every bruja worth her salt knew where to get the wild currants and gooseberries.

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